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What is a Hyperloop? A Fundamental Explanation of the Supersonic Trains

Jagatheesh is a Mechanical Engineer and interested in writing on science and technology in our life.

Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation technology developed by various countries across the world.

Hyperloop is a high-speed transportation technology developed by various countries across the world.

On November 8, 2020, Josh Giegel and Sarah Luchian, the executives of Virgin Hyperloop One, created a history. They participated in the first-ever human trial of the hyperloop. Hyperloop is a futuristic train that travels at hypersonic speed inside a vacuum tunnel using magnetic levitation.

Elon Musk, the real-life Tony Stark, describes Hyperloop as the fifth mode of transportation. It is a revolutionary idea in transportation, and this article will explain the working, recent developments, and everything about the Hyperloop.

What is a Hyperloop?

Hyperloop is a suggested mode of transportation in which passengers travel in pods inside a near-vacuum tunnel. Planes, metros, and other traditional transport vehicles face air resistance which poses a huge limitation on travel speed. In Hyperloop, the pods will be traveling inside a tunnel where most of the air is being pumped out.

Friction between the rail wheels and tracks is another limiting factor for fast travel. Hyperloop overcomes friction by using magnetic levitation, where the pods will be floating above the tracks. Hence without air resistance and friction, the two limiting factors for high speed, the Hyperloop can travel at a supersonic speed of 1200 Km/h

Theoretically, the idea of the Hyperloop is centuries old, but it is still in its embryonic stages of development.

Evolution of the Hyperloop

Rapid transportation is always a fascinating dream for humans. In 1799, George Medhurst, a Mechanical Engineer from London, patented the idea of transportation in pneumatic tubes. Within a century later, the atmospheric railway, which is similar to the Hyperloop, was opened in many places.

In the early 20th century, Robert Goddard, an American pioneer in rocket science, detailed the idea of vacuum trains. In 1981, Gerard O' Neil theoretically explained the transcontinental rails based on magnetic propulsion in his book.

Few unsuccessful attempts were made in the first decade of the 21st century. In 2013, Elon Musk released a paper on the Hyperloop. It reinitiated the spark in the scientific community to work on this futuristic mode of transportation.

A 3D Structure of Hyperloop Tunnel

A 3D Structure of Hyperloop Tunnel

The Working Principle of the Hyperloop

The development of high-speed transportation was impeded by air resistance and friction. Elon Musk proposed to remove the air from the tunnel using an electrically driven inlet fan and an axial compressor. He proposed that the capsules float above the surface, similar to the pucks float above the table in an air hockey table. It will remove the second barrier, friction.

The Hyperloop companies are using magnetic levitation instead of air pucks. The pods will move through the specially designed tunnels where most of the air will be sucked out. Companies like Virgin Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation technologies are using this principle in their design.

The Hyperloop system uses electrical energy for propulsion. The pods will get their energy from external linear induction motors. To meet the energy demands, Elon Musk proposed to mount solar panels on the top of the Hyperloop tunnel.

Magnetic Levitation

Maglev is a system in which the vehicle runs levitated from the guideway (corresponding to the rail tracks of conventional railways) by using electromagnetic forces between superconducting magnets onboard the vehicle and coils on the ground.

Commercial Feasibility of Hyperloop

Elon Musk estimated the cost to construct a tunnel between Los Angles and San Francisco would be between $6 billion to $7.5 billion. But many believe that it would take nearly $100 billion to construct the Hyperloop in the proposed route.

The professional costs like conceptual engineering, final design, land accusations are difficult to calculate in Hyperloop technologies. But the infrastructure cost comparison studies based on Hyperloop Alpha point out that Hyperloop construction is less cheap than other modes.

When it comes to travel fare, Elon Musk's proposal advocated $20 plus operation costs for one-way travel between Los Angles and San Francisco. Virgin Hyperloop, in a statement, said that it would cost around $150 for 90-mile travel between Pune and Mumbai in India.

As the technology is still in the initial stages, we need to wait for the full-fledged operation. Ever since Musk's paper, various startups initiated their minds to make Hyperloop a reality. So shortly, we can see a new mode of transportation that is affordable for all.

Virgin Hyperloop Test track at Nevada

Virgin Hyperloop Test track at Nevada

Pro's and Con's of Hyperloop

Pros:

  • Hyperloop can save an enormous amount of traveling time.
  • Eco-friendly, it uses an electric propulsion system that can be harnessed from renewable resources as planned by Elon Musk.
  • The vacuum tunnels, when constructed on pylons, will reduce the land acquisition cost.
  • With fast transport, we no longer need to live near our workplace. It will reduce the congestion in cities.
  • With the closed environment, it is possible to operate in all weather conditions.
  • Reduced freight cost and time. The need for air cargo will be reduced.
  • With the use of green technologies, emissions like GHG will be reduced

Cons:

  • The route should be built without many curves to maintain the high speed
  • High-speed travel may cause dizziness to passengers. More human trials are needed to get a clear idea.
  • Need cutting-edge technology to construct a tunnel that maintains low pressure.
  • The initial cost of construction is high.
  • It is difficult to maintain a tunnel without any leaks in a long-distance route.
  • No clear idea about emergency exits.

Recent Developments

The consortium of European countries agreed to form a joint technical committee to standardize Hyperloop transportation across Europe. After Musk's paper on Hyperloop, many companies like Virgin group came forward to build the system.

Virgin Hyperloop raised more than $160 million from various investors. They conducted feasibility studies across different countries. In July 2019, the Government of Maharashtra, a state in India, set an ambitious target to built a Hyperloop to connect Pune and Mumbai. In 2020 They conducted the first-ever human trial in their test site in Las Vegas.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies(Hyperloop TT) and other companies are playing a major role in building a fully operational Hyperloop system. Hyperloop TT has signed deals with Ukraine and China to build Hyperloop. With the enthusiastic workforce working tirelessly behind this idea, we can expect to travel in a Hyperloop soon.

SpaceX conducts Hyperloop pod competition that creates huge interest among various technological minds.

SpaceX conducts Hyperloop pod competition that creates huge interest among various technological minds.

The Hyperloop is Revolution in Transport

Elon Musk described Hyperloop as the Fifth form of Transportation. It is a technology that was possible only in theories. The wide-scale use of the Hyperloop needs more research and developments to make it feasible for all. Musk threw the idea open to all. It unites the productive minds across the world to study this centuries-old idea. Since 2015 SpaceX is conducting a Hyperloop Pod competition which creates curiosity among the science community to expand Musk's idea.

The recent human trial conducted by Virgin Hyperloop One is a great milestone in the history of Hyperloop. We need to keep in mind that it takes many years to bring air travel from theory to practice. Comfortable travel at an affordable price in the least amount of time is an ideal requirement for many people. With advanced technology, traveling in a tunnel at supersonic speeds is not so far.

First Human Trial of Hyperloop

Reference

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jagatheesh Aruchami

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