“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
- Meet the man trying to make Elon Musk's hyperloop dream a reality in Europeon July 26, 2019 at 12:39 pm
Hardt Hyperloop wants to unite multiple European cities with a high-speed transport system. Hardt says it's building an "open ecosystem," partnering up with firms like Deutsche Bahn and Tata Steel. ... […]
- World's longest hyperloop track in the works for Saudi Arabiaon July 25, 2019 at 7:46 pm
Virgin Hyperloop One has expanded its relationship with Saudi Arabia, with the two announcing plans to develop a new test track in the country's west. The facility would become the world's longest ... […]
- Hyperloop Test Pod Breaks Speed Record And Wins The Annual Hyperloop Pod Competitionon July 24, 2019 at 3:33 pm
At the 2019 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition, the student team from Germany's TU Munich achieved a top speed of 463 kmph (288 mph) on its prototype pod over a 1.2-kilometer (0.75 mile) test track. ... […]
- Elon Musk's Hyperloop Hit a New Top Speed of 288 MPH. But the Best Is Yet to Comeon July 22, 2019 at 2:25 pm
It's no secret that we have a travel problem. Getting around town takes too long, roads are congested, and if you want to travel between cities, taking a slow train doesn't exactly work out. But ... […]
- German team registers the top speed (again) in Elon Musk’s Hyperloop pod raceon July 22, 2019 at 7:34 am
The name may have changed, but the result is the same: For the fourth time in a row, a German team registered the top speed in SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s Hyperloop pod race for college-level engineers. ... […]
- Elon Musk promises new Hyperloop tunnel after speed record brokenon July 22, 2019 at 5:30 am
TUM Hyperloop has set a new speed record of 463 km/h (288 mph) at the fourth SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. The win was announced by Hyperloop’s official Twitter account. After confirming the speed ... […]
- A bunch of college engineers hit a top speed of 288mph in Elon Musk's Hyperloop pod competitionon July 22, 2019 at 3:57 am
An image of a chain link. It symobilizes a website link url. An envelope. It indicates the ability to send an email. A stylized bird with an open mouth, tweeting. The word "in". A stylized letter F. ... […]
- Elon Musk promises longer, curved tunnel for future Hyperloop contestson July 22, 2019 at 2:15 am
In a departure from previous years, next year's Hyperloop competition will be held in a six mile curved vacuum tunnel. Previously, the competition was held in a straight ¾ mile test tunnel which is ... […]
- Hyperloop hits record speeds at SpaceX's 2019 Pod competitionon July 21, 2019 at 11:04 pm
Now in its fourth instalment, SpaceX's Hyperloop Pod competition continues to bring out the very best in student engineering teams from all around the world, with the 2019 edition again pushing ... […]
- Team TUM wins SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition with record 288 mph top speedon July 21, 2019 at 7:27 pm
SpaceX hosted its fourth annual SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition finals on Sunday at the test tube it built outside its Hawthorne HQ. We were on site for the competition, and watched as Team TUM ... […]
via Google News and Bing News