By Daniel Neville, Eleanor Trese, and Thereza Zephir
DEC. 11, 2019
In 2012, Elon Musk published his “Hyperloop Alpha” paper and showed the world the possibility of transport using an entirely new technology. Since then, multiple companies, including Musk’s SpaceX, have been competing to construct the world’s first hyperloop system for public use.
Hyperloops systems are designed to create an environment within a tube that exerts very little friction on the pods used for transport. Specifications and designs for the project vary depending on the developer, but most hyperloops include a pod within a tube, use of electromagnetic suspension and a low-pressure or vacuum tube.
To help develop this technology and to give college students and others an opportunity to gain real world engineering skills, SpaceX hosts an annual competition every summer to build the fastest pod. It also requires that the pod slows down at the end of the one-mile track, without crashing.
Saint Thomas Aquinas High School (STA) alum Chase Sabadash is a member of the team at Virginia Tech (VT). He told the Raider Review that the most difficult part of participating in the competition was “…meeting standards. There’s, I believe, [between] five hundred and six hundred teams that do it world wide and [SpaceX] picks based on those designs, [and] maybe twenty or thirty every year actually come out to Nevada to test in [SpaceX’s] vacuum chamber. But then of the twenty or thirty that get that far, I think last year only four of them ran…” He said, “That’s the biggest challenge just meeting the rules and requirements to run this thing and in fact its very rigorous and very, very few teams actually pull it off.” The SpaceX website specifies that participants in this competition are required to create a Preliminary Design Briefing that provides such details as their future pod’s possible structure, electrical systems, propulsion systems, and any dangerous materials used in the design. Near the end of the competition, teams filled out the Final Design Package, which contained everything included in the Preliminary Design Briefing along with “predicted vibration environments… pod cost breakdown…” as well as a “sensor list and location map.” Teams also filled out a comprehensive safety check before testing their final design. While SpaceX allows teams to re-enter pods, teams had to “highlight the modifications and upgrades made” to those pods. In a tweet by Elon Musk, he stated that next year’s competition will include a curve in the track and a vacuum tube that would minimize friction and air resistance, so pods would need to be airtight.
Chase Sabadash mentioned that it was “… really cool having a practical application of the engineering skills that we’ve been taught over the years, because it’s kind of like a joke with engineers…” The students feel that every potential employer “…says that ‘You need to have eighteen years of experience’… but Hyperloop [SpaceX’s competition] is nice because then you actually have practical experience building, designing, presenting ideas.” These experiences help to provide meaningful insights to the college students to better prepare them for life as engineers. He also mentioned to the Raider Review that those thinking of taking an engineering path should “… find something that you’re really passionate about… because you spend hours in the labs and workshops and stuff building, and so it’s really important that you
enjoy what you’re doing because if you enjoy it… it doesn’t feel so much like work as it does you having fun and making stuff.
Hyperloop systems are extremely fast. The top speed of a functioning system could reach speeds of about 760 miles per hour. In comparison, the Boeing 737, one of the most common forms of air transportation, has a top speed of about 600 miles per hour. Hyperloop One’s system plans to connect Las Vegas and Los Angeles, with the travel time between the two cities taking only about 30 minutes. According to the Urban Transport News “… the Virgin Hyperloop One system will be 5 to 10 times more energy-efficient than an airplane…” SpaceX plans to use solar panels on top of tubes to power the motors of the pods. Chase Sababdash told the Raider Review that he believes the best advantage of the hyperloop technology over traditional transport alternatives is that it would be “… really good… if it actually gets implemented at full scale because it’s really low emission and its energy efficient on its own… it kinda produces and uses all its own energy, then produces extra just based off how fast it’s going… so I think it’d solve a lot of problems about cutting emissions and making travel less gross for our carbon footprint.” SpaceX also hopes to use this technology to create efficient transport on Mars for their future colony projects.
For a source of information on hyperloop technology, or the competition, visit the SpaceX website.