With the advancement of technology, transportation evolved from carts that were driven by animals to vehicles with engines. It took an enormous leap with the invention of the aircraft. “Hyperloop” will certainly become another milestone in modern land transportation.
What is Hyperloop?
Hyperloop is a new, environment-friendly, super-fast transport system currently under development by several companies. It’s a pod with passengers traveling at a speed of over 700 miles an hour inside giant low-pressure tubes. It is still at the trial stage but has given promising results that this will be the future of transport.
It’s older than you think!
Hyperloop may sound like a whole new method. But it has a long history dating back to the 18th century. British inventor George Medhurst proposed a prototype of the hyperloop in 1799.
In 1909, US rocket scientist Robert Goddard wrote an article entitled ‘The Limit of Rapid Transit’. It contained some of the hyperloop’s basic components but was never built.
Between 1965 and 2000, several attempts were made to build a system similar to hyperloop in different countries, even by a group of researchers at MIT. But none of them succeeded and most of those projects were stalled.
In the early 2000s, Daryl Oster CEO of the US consortium ET3 Global Alliance designed a maglev train which is very similar to hyperloop.
Elon Musk and Hyperloop
Elon Musk, an American entrepreneur and businessman, revealed the first design of the hyperloop in August 2013. He published a 58-page paper “Hyperloop Alpha” in which he described enclosed capsules or pods that levitated on a cushion of air, each containing up to 28 people, moving through a system of tubes on skis.
The Kantrowitz limit
“Nature’s top speed law for a given tube to pod area ratio is known as the Kantrowitz limit. This is highly problematic, as it forces you to either go slowly or have a super huge diameter tube. Interestingly, there are usually two solutions to the Kantrowitz limit – one where you go slowly and one where you go really, really fast.”
You would think we can choose the second option, but the g-force acting on your body even at a slight bend would be extremely painful. Also, the acceleration and the deceleration will be unbearable. The solution to overcome this problem is a compressor fan installed on the front of the pod, which transfers high-pressure air from the front to the rear of the pod, bypassing the gap between pod and tube.
How does it work?
The hyperloop mainly comprises two components. The capsule or pod that carries passengers and the tube in which the pod travels. Several designs are put forward by different companies for the structure of these components. The pods float above the tube’s surface on a set of air-bearing skis or using magnetic levitation. They could carry from 20 to 40 passengers in different models, and some could carry cargo and vehicles. The pod gets the initial velocity from an external linear electric motor. This would accelerate the pod to high subsonic velocity and provide a periodic re-boost roughly every 70 miles.
The tubes would be made either above or below the ground. Most of the air inside the tube will be removed by vacuum pumps to reduce friction and air resistance. According to Musk’s model, the operating pressure inside the tube is about 100 Pascal. At this pressure, the drag force of the air will be reduced by 1,000 times than the pressure at sea level. The total system would be powered by solar energy generated by the solar panels placed on the top of the tubes, which makes the hyperloop more environmentally friendly than any other transport mode available. The system is protected from the weather and can operate under any environmental condition.
How much will it cost?
Building a hyperloop is neither easy nor cheap at all. The building cost of a capsule is estimated at around $1.35m. The overall cost of building tubes with vacuum pumps and other components would cost several billions of dollars, depending on the total distance. But the ultimate goal is a more affordable method of transportation, so the tickets would cost a surprisingly low value around $20 per person. Again, the price depends on the route.
In 2014, Virgin Hyperloop was founded and began to work on turning Musk’s idea into a reality.
In May 2016, Virgin Hyperloop successfully carried out its first open-air test in North Las Vegas. In March 2017, its hyperloop development site, DevLoop was built in the Nevada desert with a diameter of 3.3m and a length of 500m.
They could perform their first trial in July 2017. After many trials from then, on 8th November 2020, Virgin Hyperloop successfully conducted its first passenger test. The first two passengers were Virgin Hyperloop’s co-founder, Josh Giegel, and head of the passenger experience, Sara Luchian.
The biggest challenge for the hyperloop is the cost of building, which is still unclear but surely higher than any other mode of transport. The number of passengers per pod is low compared to other transport methods. Maintaining a vacuum in a tube, which is hundreds of miles long, is another challenge. Turning will also be extremely difficult at a higher speed.
Every time a pod arrives at a station, it has to decelerate and stop. Then the airlock will have to close, pressurize, and open again. Then the pod has to clear the airlock before the next pod arrives. The speed at which this occurs will determine the distance between pods.
Even with all these challenges, the hyperloop has come so far with a vast improvement. Scientists and engineers are developing new methods to overcome the above challenges and to increase efficiency. It won’t be tomorrow or the next year, but one day, the hyperloop will become the major transport mode of people.
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