Fans of Futurama’s futuristic Tube Transport System may be excited to discover that a similar form of transportation may soon be a reality, in which capsules (resembling trains) travel through reduced-pressure tubes at high speeds.
The transportation system, known as “Hyper Loop,” was introduced in 2013 by Elon Musk, a prominent businessperson and inventor who heads Tesla Motors and SpaceX. SpaceX has a rocky history; Forbes reports that two of their Falcon 9 rockets have exploded since June 2015, with one exploding only two minutes after launch. SpaceX still, however, holds a hefty contract with NASA, and is currently supporting hyperloop production and design.
Musk’s company is not, itself, working on developing the Hyper Loop, despite the fact that they are the ones who developed the initial idea. Instead, they are encouraging other companies to work with Musk’s initial plans in order to develop prototypes, and providing help to support these companies.
One of the ways in which SpaceX is encouraging others to develop prototypes is through an upcoming competition. This competition is aimed at postsecondary students and independent engineering teams. Competitors will work on designing Hyperloop pods, which will be tested at a one-mile test track being built by SpaceX near their headquarters in Hawthorne, California. They are planning to run the contest this summer.
Two of the most prominent groups working to build Hyperloops right now are the similarly-named Hyperloop Technologies (HT) and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT). Both are currently working on testing tracks and facilities, as well as navigating the legal and financial steps required in order to do so.
Fortune reports that HT has applied for over nine million dollars in tax incentives in order to build their testing facility north of Los Vegas. They report that the state is expected to grant these incentives.
HT’s intention is to build a testing facility that is 20,000 square feet large, as well as a two-mile test track, which will allow them to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of the technology they are developing. The expected cost of this project is $121 million, and they expect to be finished building by September.
HTT is currently focusing on plans to build a five-mile test track in California, according to Fortune. They project 32 months to complete this project, and intend to invest $150 million dollars in it. They also have been exploring the possibility of building a Hyperloop system in Slovakia.
On a technological level, the system is expected to be able to travel at speeds of roughly 700 miles per hour through tubes that contain 20-30 people at a time, according to phys.org. Gizmag details the specifications of the Hyperloop as an “elevated, reduced-pressure tube that contains pressurized capsules driving within the tube by a number of linear electric motors.”
According to Gizmag, the reason why the capsules can move so quickly within the tube is because they experience very little friction or drag. This reduction in friction and drag is caused largely by air bearings on the inside of the tube that work along with other techniques in order to minimize “choked airflow.”
These air bearings have been identified as one of the most groundbreaking innovations involved in the Hyperloop, along with the airflow choke mitigation elements. One of the techniques used to minimize airflow is the use of an air compressor, which will be located in the front of the capsule and pump the air to a bypass nozzle at the rear of the capsule, minimizing the amount of air that flows around the sides of it and increasing the speed.
Overall, with many independent companies and developers working to create working Hyperloops, and with SpaceX openly encouraging and supporting these different companies, there is a lot of work being done to make Hyperloop a reality.