Have you ever wondered how we will travel in the future? If you have, read on because you must meet Hyperloop – the 5th mode of transportation – and what many think is the beginning of a new future in transportation!
If you’ve never heard about Hyperloop you should firstly know that this project has everyone going bonkers. The greatest engineering minds, those that helped NASA conquer Mars and Boeing defeat gravity are behind this project. This project is also endorsed by Elon Musk the creator of the idea and founder of Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX – the first private company to reach the mesosphere.
Why is hyperloop unique?
Have you ever asked yourself why don’t trains travel at 5,000 mph? Safety considerations aside, the main reason is air resistance. Just in case you forgot about the power of air resistance, next time you are in a car driving at over 60 mph take out your hand and feel the power of air resistance.
So jokes aside, now that you’ve recollected the power of air resistance, imagine its effect on bigger, heavier objects like trains. Having grounded the power of air resistance, is there any way to circumvent this force opposing motion? As of today, there are 3 ways we can minimise air resistance and therefore increase the velocity of objects:
- Increase the force of propulsion – one way to increase velocity is to increase the force of propulsion. Whilst as of today we are brilliant at creating more powerful engines we are doom to reach a plateau. Why? The power needed to push an object through air increases as the cube of the velocity. In other words, cruising on a highway at 50mph requires 10 horsepower to overcome air resistance. The same car at 100mph requires 80 horsepower to overcome air resistance. Imagine the horse power needed to bring the 35,200,000 kg Fortescue train to 5000mph.
- Change the objects aerodynamic – going back to the hand example. Change the aerodynamics of your hand. High five position, close fist, spade position. What happens? The force you feel against your hand changes why? Because the surface area of collision increases or decreases. Whilst we are also particularly good at reducing contact surface, there is a limit to our ability. Would you like to travel in a sleeping position?
- Change the environment – now this is were the fun starts. We’ve talked about how we can in the short-run travel faster by enhancing the horse power of an object and its aerodynamics – to reach a plateau in the long run. Yet, if the limiting factor and problem is air resistance, why not change the environment – get rid of air? Result, no air resistance, no forces opposing motion, higher velocities for less energy. Technically, without friction and air resistance, in a vacuum almost perpetual motion could be achieved.
So yes, to the question why is Hyperloop unique, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is the only company out there considering endeavouring into discovering new velocities in transportation by focusing on reducing air resistance. This could potentially have us closer to travelling at speeds of 4000 – 5000 mph using relative little power in the future.
How will hyperloop achieve this?
Now you are probably thinking, how an earth will they achieve this? Whilst Elon Musk claims that he is ready to construct a Hyperloop test track this year in Texas, as of today we don’t have a economically viable technology that can power us to 4,000-5000 mph. Part of the reason is the high cost associated with creating a close to perfect vacuum and our current inability to find a solution to the painful g loads that would be created when turning at 4000-5000mph.
Hyperloop cannot yet create the perfect vacuum nor propel us at 2 times the speed of sound, Hyperloop is definitely endeavouring into what could be the future of a nascent mode of transportation. Economies of scale please work your magic!
If Hyperloop cannot propel us at 4000-5000 mph, what is it doing to bring us closer to its portrayed future? Hyperloop will little by little find solutions that will continue to propel us to new velocity limits. As of now, the technology behind Hyperloop is the following:
It will be composed of capsules that will flow through a continuous tube maintained at a partial vacuum. In order to reduce ground friction, each capsule will float on a 0.5-to-1.3 millimetre layer of air provided under pressure to air-bearing skis, similar to how pucks are suspended in an air hockey table. In order to overcome the Kantrowitz Limit, the Hyperloop will have an electrically driven inlet fan and air compressor at the nose of the capsule in order to actively transfer high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel thus resolving the problem of high speed transport in a tube that is not a hard vacuum.
WHAT WILL HYPERLOOP DO?
As proposed by Ellon Musk Hyperloop will be able to transport you from Los Angeles to San Francisco – one of the most traveled corridors in America – in 35 minutes reaching a top speed of 760mph. This transportation will be more cheap and personal than road, faster than air and more environmentally friendly than any other mode of transportation yet conceived. Ellon affirms in his website that by placing solar panels on the top of the tube the Hyperloop will be able to be self-powering.
That’s Hyperloop – in a nutshell. The beginning of our adventure into a new environment in transportation, a partial vacuum environment. Where will it take us? Will we ever reach the 4000-5000 mph expected velocity? Will Hyperloop redefine the limits of the transportation industry? What do you think?
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