Elon Musk's "vacuum" revolution

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Elon Musk's "vacuum" revolution
Elon Musk's "vacuum" revolution

The recent first test of the Hyperloop vacuum train technology was a major claim to success. Let's see if Elon Musk succeeds.


What is Hyperloop?

Elon Musk is a truly iconic personality of our time. It has already revolutionized electric vehicles (Tesla Motors) and is close to changing the space industry (Falcon launch vehicles). However, the entrepreneur's ambitions are not limited to this, and now he seriously intends to make a breakthrough in the field of passenger transportation. The heart of the Hyperloop concept is a vacuum train that can travel between cities at a speed of 1220 km / h! To be clear, the top speed of Boeing's flagship model, the 787 Dreamliner, is capped at 954 km / h.

In the case of the Hyperloop, however, a lot depends on the terrain, and sometimes the speed will have to be reduced to 480 km / h. But getting to the desired point on a vacuum train can be as fast as by plane. And also, presumably, cheaper, but first things first.

They want to lay the first double-track route between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Although it is a stretch to call it a route: we are talking, rather, about a pipeline inside which capsules move. The pipes will be located above the ground on special supports. In the version for purely passenger traffic, they want to use a pipeline with a diameter of 2.23 m. The capsule will have two rows of seats with fourteen seats each. Another option is being considered, similar to a ferry: in this case, people will be able to move inside the pipeline with their cars, and the diameter of the pipe will be 3.3 m.


In addition to Musk himself, whole teams of enthusiasts are involved in the project, the most active of which are California-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Hyperloop Technologies.

The very concept of a vacuum train is not new: it was proposed about a hundred years ago. It was assumed that trains would move by magnetic levitation inside tubes in a vacuum. In this case, there is no need to deal with the friction of the support or the counter resistance of the air - it was believed that this would make it possible to reduce the cost of transportation to the maximum.

However, Musk suggested improving the idea. In his opinion, it is not necessary to achieve a complete vacuum in the pipe. It will be much more economical to maintain a forevacuum with a pressure of 100 Pa. In this case, the capsule collides with incoming air masses, which, according to Musk, can be redirected under the capsule bottom with the help of a fan and special guides. Thus, a kind of air cushion is formed. The concept looks very slim and much cheaper than the magnetic levitation option.

The capsule will be driven by a linear electric motor. The stator will be a 15-meter aluminum rail located at the bottom of the inner side of the pipe. Such a rail is planned to be installed only every 110 km. The entire system will be powered by electricity, so the Hyperloop project can be called environmentally friendly (in comparison with airliners, for example).


The path is long and thorny

Difficulties began at the very first stage of the project, which, however, is not surprising, given the incredible technical complexity. For example, specialists from the NASA Glenn Research Center conducted a simulation and found that the pipe diameter would have to be doubled. And earlier on the site of the company The MathWorks, which is engaged in computer modeling, posted material where it was said that it would be impossible for Hyperloop to reach a speed of 1200 km / h (at least, if we talk about the proposed Los Angeles-San Francisco highway).

The very concept of Elon Musk has also been criticized.Experts from the aforementioned Hyperloop Transportation Technologies said that an airbag may not be the best option, because in this case, handling problems may arise. But even a small deviation from the norm for a capsule racing at an unimaginable speed of 1200 km / h would mean a disaster. HTT advised to take a closer look at the idea of ​​magnetic levitation, which Musk did not like very much.

In this case, however, Hyperloop will become even more expensive, although even in the initial version, the price of the Los Angeles-San Francisco highway can reach $ 16 billion. Price is generally the cornerstone of the whole concept. And this applies to both the Hyperloop track and the ticket price. Recently, Professor Michael Anderson, representing the University of California, carried out his own calculations and found that the price of a Hyperloop ticket on the Los Angeles-San Francisco route would cost a thousand dollars (although it was originally said about only $ 20). As for the cost of the entire initiative, here the professor announced a fantastic amount of $ 100 billion.


Reality and perspectives

And yet, despite the difficulties, work on Hyperloop is in full swing. This winter, Texas A&M University announced the winner of a competition in which different teams demonstrated the design of Hyperloop capsules. The victory went to the team representing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But what is even more important is that the project has found many supporters who are ready to invest in it. Among them was the Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg: in 2015, it was reported that the German Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum, which he controls, had taken up Hyperloop. By that time, six of its employees were already working on the implementation of the project in the interests of California-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. The expertise of Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum has come in handy to create the systems necessary for the normal operation of the Hyperloop pipeline.


In favor of the fact that the "Hyperloop" will be born, says the new agreement signed between HTT and the government of Slovakia. Within the framework of this agreement, it is planned to build a highway connecting Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest. So it will be possible to get from the Slovak capital to Vienna in just eight minutes, while such a trip by car would take at least an hour. The timing of the construction of the Hyperloop, however, has not been announced, as is the commissioning date for the first section of Los Angeles - San Francisco, which is not surprising, given the many technical uncertainties. Some experts, however, take the liberty of making predictions. Hyperloop One (formerly known as Hyperloop Technologies) said it will be able to carry passengers by 2021.

Now the project is moving forward with confidence. In May, Hyperloop One conducted the first tests of the system, to which the attention of the entire world community was riveted. The special device was launched on railway rails, accelerated with the help of electromagnets to 160 km / h, and then braked in a "sand trap". In fact, it was just a test of the acceleration system: a linear motor was tested, which will accelerate the capsule with passengers to the required speeds. The tests were successful, but this is only the first step. There was no reduced pressure pipe or capsule. It was just a trolley mounted on railroad tracks.

However, by the end of 2016, Hyperloop One plans to build a full-fledged three-kilometer test "tube", where experimental devices will be able to accelerate to 1100 km / h. In turn, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is busy building an eight-kilometer test bed, although it is difficult to say exactly when the first prototype will be built.


Summing up, I would like to note that technically Hyperloop is realizable, the only question is whether it will be successful from a commercial point of view. Here you can draw an analogy with the already created magnetic levitation trains, such as, for example, the Transrapid. Such formulations are very fast. The Japanese JR-Maglev, for example, accelerates to 603 km / h. Moreover, such transport is very safe.However, magnetic levitation trains are too expensive and have not yet become widespread. Time will tell what will happen to Hyperloop. We just have to follow the news and wait.

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