“It’s a cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table.”
Now that the media kerfuffle surrounding Elon Musk‘s Hyperloop transit system proposal has settled down to a dull roar, it’s a good time to step back and consider in detail some of the real innovations and difficult issues raised through analysis of the 57-page Hyperloop plan.
The shortest description of the Hyperloop is Musk’s own bon mot: “It’s a cross between a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air hockey table.”
A slightly more complete description of the concept is that of an elevated, reduced-pressure tube that contains pressurized capsules driven within the tube by a number of linear electric motors. These capsules move with very little friction or drag owing to air bearings that ride on the inner surface of the tube, and a combination of active and passive means to reduce the negative effects of choked airflow on the transportation system.
In this article I am only considering the science and engineering aspects of the Hyperloop. While acknowledging that political issues may actually determine its fate, what concerns us here is whether or not it could work.
A Quick Overview
A reaction many people have to the Hyperloop is that there is nothing new here. While it’s fair to say that all inventors are standing on the shoulders of giants to a certain degree, there are in fact very real innovations in Musk’s proposal.
The Hyperloop has essentially no relationship with the old pneumatic tube transports beyond a certain similarity of appearance. There is, however, quite a bit of overlap with earlier proposals for reduced pressure or vacuum-tube transports. In particular, the early theoretical and experimental work ofRobert Goddard, the inventor of the liquid fuel rocket, appears to have the greatest overlap with the Hyperloop.
Goddard’s notes about reduced pressure transports sat in storage for over 30 years, only surfacing after his death in 1945. In US patent 2,511,979, he describes nearly every major feature of the Hyperloop save for the use of linear electric motors for propulsion (he preferred using reaction motors for propulsion), and using special apparatus to minimize the detrimental effects of choked airflow around the capsules. Goddard also described the use of air bearings, but of a very different sort than proposed for the Hyperloop. Many others, of course, have suggested the use of linear electric motors.
To sum up, it would appear that the main innovations in the Hyperloop proposal are the type of air bearings used to reduce friction forces on the moving capsules, and design elements that avoid the limitations encountered when the airflow around the capsules is choked. Let’s take a closer look at these additions.
The Latest on: Hyperloop
Aecom team unveils design for Denver Airport hyperloop
on May 23, 2018 at 8:31 am
A team that includes Aecom has unveiled its initial design for a hyperloop station serving Denver International Airport in the USA. The team, which also includes Virgin Hyperloop One and Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is now moving forward to ... […]
The Home Front: Hyperloop transit tube to ‘whisk passengers across the state in minutes’ wants governments to show their support
on May 23, 2018 at 7:13 am
“A company trying to build a high-speed tube transit system that could whisk passengers across the state in minutes has a message for Colorado Springs-area governments and residents,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “Those who want Colorado ... […]
Mayor Berger visits hyperloop test site in Mojave
on May 23, 2018 at 6:48 am
LIMA — When Virgin Hyperloop One asked a group of government officials if they would be willing to ride a sled careening 300 miles per hour through a half-mile tube in the Mojave Desert, Mayor Dave Berger had no problem raising his hand. “I love it. […]
Denver called front-runner for hyperloop; rendering of DIA station released
on May 23, 2018 at 4:08 am
DENVER -- It is a project that is hard to believe -- but you should believe it. The long talked about Colorado Hyperloop-- with the capability of transporting individuals from Denver to the mountains in a matter of minutes -- is undergoing serious ... […]
Global hyperloop technology market is likely to grow at a CAGR of +47% towards the end of 2022 according to market forecasts
on May 22, 2018 at 9:58 pm
“Hyperloop is a new form of ground transport currently in development by a number of companies, which could see passengers travelling at 700 miles an hour in floating pods within low-pressure tubes.” The report on the global Hyperloop Technology Market ... […]
High-tech Hyperloop system could connect Tampa to Orlando
on May 22, 2018 at 9:41 am
A Hyperloop tube is displayed during the first test of the propulsion system at the Hyperloop One Test and Safety site on May 11, 2016 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images,) A Hyperloop tube is displayed during the first test of ... […]
A hyperloop connecting Orlando and Tampa along the I-4 may be in the works
on May 21, 2018 at 8:22 am
While much of the recent mass transit focus has been on SunRail’s Phase 2 expansion, there are plenty of other transit projects in the works throughout the region. One of the most innovative is a hyperloop that’s being proposed between Orlando and Miami. […]
New hyperloop photos show capsule's sleek, windowless interior
on May 21, 2018 at 12:30 am
If you've ever wondered what the inside of a hyperloop capsule might look like, you're in luck. Newly released photos of the interior of a full-scale capsule mock-up that went on public display in Dubai in February show a cabin that looks like that of a ... […]
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