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Countires race to launch hyperloop for ultra-high-speed transportation and launching missiles and satellites

The rail industry is increasingly embracing technology. Concepts such as automated, maglev and high-speed trains are now becoming a reality. One futuristic concept is the Hyperloop – an ultra-high-speed ground transportation system akin to bullet trains – developed by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

 

In Hyperloop,  the pods carrying passengers travel through tubes or tunnels from which most of the air has been removed to reduce friction. The hyperloop capsules levitate on pressurised air generated by compressors under the vehicles. The capsules are driven forward by powerful magnetic fields generated by linear induction motors along the track. The low pressure minimises friction and air resistance, therefore reducing the power needed and allowing the ultra-high-speed hovertrain (over 1,000km/h)  to take minutes rather than hours to reach a destination. In addition, since the pods travel in a tube, they are not subject to shutdowns due to harsh weather, such as snow or polar vortexes.

 

Supporters argue that Hyperloop could be cheaper and faster than train or car travel, and cheaper and less polluting than air travel. They claim that it’s also quicker and cheaper to build than traditional high-speed rail. Hyperloop could therefore be used to take the pressure off gridlocked roads, making travel between cities easier, and potentially unlocking major economic benefits as a result.

 

In a panel session with the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, HyperloopTT CEO Andrés de León made the case for hyperloop systems. Mr. De León emphasized key advantages of hyperloop in his testimony, including:

  • HyperloopTT systems are ready to be built utilizing existing technologies alongside over 50 transportation industry partners like Hitachi Rail, Leybold, and GNB.
  • Hyperloop is less expensive to build at $54 million per mile, significantly less than the $150 to $250 million per mile price tags of high-speed rail and MagLev.
  • Hyperloop is a sustainable next-generation technology, independent studies estimate that along a single 468-mile route a HyperloopTT system could replace the emissions of over one million cars annually.
  • The United States has an immediate opportunity to build the most innovative mode of transportation in over a century and lead a new era of sustainable innovation.

 

“The time for hyperloop is now,” said Andrés de León, CEO of HyperloopTT. “HyperloopTT and our industry colleagues have led the way for the technological, economic, environmental, and regulatory justification for the biggest breakthrough in transportation in a century.”

 

Race to develop Hyperloop Systems

The concept, which has spent years in development, builds on a proposal by Tesla founder Elon Musk. Some critics have described it as science fiction. It is based on the world’s fastest magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, then made faster by speeding along inside vacuum tubes. The Maglev train speed world record was set in 2015 when a Japanese train reached 374mph in a test run near Mount Fuji.

 

A race is on to see who will be the first to build this transit system, called a hyperloop, and where. Several companies have been founded to commercialize hyperloop services, one called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and another called Hyperloop One.

 

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which has 28 patents, is crowdsourcing its research and development from engineers working at places like NASA, Tesla, Boeing and Lockheed Martin as well as the United States’ Lawrence Livermore Lab, which is credited with developing an early levitation system. It has opened offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Toulouse, Slovakia, the UK, India, Indonesia and Spain.

 

It has a joint venture with the South Korean government and  announced the signing of an agreement with the city of Toulouse to open a facility for the development and testing of hyperloop-related technologies. As part of this agreement the city is providing a 3,000-square-meter facility along with outdoor terrain at a former military airport base. It has also been given permission to test a two-kilometer hyperloop line inside the airport, its chairman, Bibop Gresta, said in an interview.

 

In July Musk, who has launched a venture called The Boring Company, tweeted that he had “just received verbal [government] approval” to build a new underground hyperloop network that can shuttle commuters between New York City and Washington D.C., about 230 miles apart, in 29 minutes. In a tweet Musk said the new super-fast transportation network will also have stops in Philadelphia and Baltimore, as well as “up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city.”

 

Dutch tech startup Hardt wants to conquer Europe with its own vision for a Hyperloop and has taken the first steps in implementing Europe’s first tunnel. According to the startup, the tunnel section, which is only 30 meters long and was built in Delft in the Netherlands, now comprises all the core elements necessary for a functioning Hyperloop system.

 

While the Hyperloop project is making strides globally with its first ten-kilometre stretch set to open by 2020 in the UAE and developments in the US, China and parts of Europe progressing, India might become the frontrunner to build the first Hyperloop.

 

Virgin Hyperloop has trialed its first-ever journey with passengers, in the desert of Nevada. In the trial, two passengers – both company staff – travelled the length of a 500m test track in 15 seconds, reaching 107mph (172km/h). However, this is a fraction of Virgin’s ambitions for travel speeds of more than 1,000km/h.

 

In July 2019, the Indian Government gave the final nod for construction of a Hyperloop train between Mumbai and Pune. While several countries worldwide have unveiled plans to build this version of a high-speed train for years, India might take the lead in doing so. The proposed link connecting Mumbai and Pune will slash the current 3.5 hours travel time to under 35 minutes. Currently, the two cities witness 75 million passenger journeys between them annually – a figure that will expectedly rise to 130 million by 2026. The Hyperloop aims to undertake 150 million passenger trips annually, along with transporting lightweight cargo units.

 

Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hyperloop One which aims to do so in India by linking Mumbai and Pune. Branson described the Hyperloop as “a pioneering technology with the power to create a fundamental, massive shift in human ingenuity.” “Over the course of the next 50 years, hyperloop technology will spearhead a revolution in transportation,” he wrote in a post for Wired. “I believe Virgin Hyperloop One could have the same impact upon India in the 21st century as trains did in the 20th century,” Branson said in a statement. “Virgin Hyperloop One can help India become a global transportation pioneer and forge a new world-changing industry.”

 

CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One, Jay Walder believes the project “is history in the making.” “The race is on to host the first hyperloop transportation system in the world, and today’s announcement puts India firmly in the lead, This is a significant milestone and the first of many important steps toward bringing Hyperloop to the masses,”

The Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop isn’t the only project in the race. US-based research company Hyperloop Transportation Technology announced plans to connect Vijayawada and Amaravati in the south-eastern coastal state of Andhra Pradesh and the project has even gone beyond the memorandum stage.

 

Chinese Hyperloop for possible military projects

China’s pursuit of high-speed maglev trains has taken a further step with the start of construction of a test line that can handle speeds of up to 1,000 kilometers per hour in North China’s Shanxi Province, reported in May 2021. This was the latest step by China following the commissioning of maglev trains that run at up to 620 kilometers per hour earlier this year, while other nations such as Japan and US are also ramping up efforts on the research and development (R&D) and trials of vacuum maglev trains. The high-speed maglev railway, undertaken by North University of China and the Third Research Institute at China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, leverages low vacuum and magnetic suspension processes.

 

The PLA is interested in ­vacuum train technology for ­several reasons, according to Zhao a senior scinetist. Launching a missile from a vacuum tube, for instance, could reduce its fuel consumption by 60 per cent to 70 per cent, he said. That meant a missile could fly much further or carry more ­warheads. Zhao said vacuum train technology could also be used to launch fighter jets on aircraft ­carriers.

 

Some research teams were also conducting experiments to send small military satellites into orbit from a vacuum tube, he said. Another area under intensive research is to combine the ­vacuum tube with a railgun. A railgun uses electromagnetic forces to destroy a target with high energy particles and vacuum train technology may make it easier to accelerate projectiles to extremely high speeds, according to a Chinese researcher in the field.

 

Numerous research teams are developing the technology in China and some of the projects have not been disclosed to the public due to their military sensitivity, according to Zhao. “The situation is similar in the US. A major drive for the research comes from military demand,” Zhao said. One centre researching the technology in China is State Key Laboratory of Traction Power at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu (成都) in Sichuan (四川) province.

 

Challenges

While the Hyperloop promises to change the rail industry, it is still a theoretical transportation system tested at lower-speeds and has never been tested with human passengers. Technology  needs to overcome a long list of challenges before finding an application in the real world, Zhao said. For instance, a lot of heat would be generated by the va­cuum train during high-speed travel, but the energy would have no way to dissipate in a ­vacuum. “Imagine sitting in an oven flying at 1,000km/h, but no wind. It won’t be very comfortable,” Zhao said.

 

Critics argue that lots of pods will be required to achieve the same passenger numbers as more traditional rail, which uses much bigger carriages. And there are many engineering hurdles to overcome, like building the tubes strong enough to deal with the stresses of carrying the high-speed pods, and finding energy- and cost-efficient ways to keep them operating at low pressure.

 

Critics of Hyperloop have warned that travelling in the tube might be an uncomfortable experience, due to nausea-inducing acceleration, plus lateral G-force on bends in the route. However, Virgin Hyperloop One says that a journey via Hyperloop will feel about the same as riding in an elevator or a passenger plane.

 

Furthermore, claims have previously been made that the Hyperloop is too susceptible to disruption from a power outage, or even terrorist attacks, to be considered safe.

 

New Technologies

The concept of 700mph land travel has moved a step closer with the successful designing of valves which can withstand forces of more than 125 tonnes. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies says their safety isolation valves are critical safety components for HyperloopTT systems. The company says the valves are built to precise specifications by GNB KL Group and will isolate sections of hyperloop system tubes to allow for easier system pressurisation for maintenance or emergency. The full-scale valve is built for commercial operations measuring 16.5 feet (5m) in height and weigh 35 tonnes. They can fully open or close within 30 seconds.

 

In most emergency scenarios, capsules will stop at pre-determined emergency stations along the route’s length to exit the capsule and tube infrastructure. As a redundant emergency response option, the HyperloopTT system will isolate sections of the tube for re-pressurisation. If the capsule is unable to stop at a pre-defined exit, a lit emergency path in the depressurised tube will lead passengers to emergency hatches to safely exit the infrastructure.

 

“One of the questions we regularly receive regarding our technology is about safety, especially in emergency scenarios,” added Andres De Leon, CEO of HyperloopTT. “These valves, built to safety certification standards by a world-class leader, are an essential part of hyperloop safety, as they allow us to isolate portions of the track in the event maintenance is needed or in the rare case of an emergency.”

 

Hyperloop Market

The Hyperloop Technology market with COVID-19 impact is expected to grow from USD 1.2 billion in 2021 to USD 6.6 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 40.4%. The major factors driving the growth of the Hyperloop Technology market are decreased travel time and transport costs. less expensive and minimum infrastructural maintenance, creation of hyperloop network requires less land area, tolerance to earthquakes and other natural calamities and emphasis on solar power for energy consumption in the hyperloop transportation technology.

 

However, lack of awareness regarding hyperloop transportation technology, regulation not yet implemented for hyperloop transportation technology by governments and bureaucrats and safety and security concerns is expected to restrain the growth of the market.

 

APAC is expected to witness highest CAGR as the companies that are into hyperloop technology are focusing on this region due to the presence of a few evolved economies and the population crisis leading to crowded streets. Australia, India and South Korea are countries that have already signed MoUs with hyperloop companies and are working on the commercialization phase.

 

The Hyperloop Technology market was dominated by Virgin Hyperloop (US), Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (US), Hardt B.V. (Netherlands), TRANSPOD (Canada), and Zeleros (Spain).

 

 

References and Resources also include:

https://www.railway-technology.com/features/will-india-be-the-first-to-see-a-hyperloop-one-train-in-action/

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1946676/beyond-hyperloop-chinese-scientists-board-vacuum-train

https://highways-news.com/hyperloop-breakthrough-with-design-of-new-safety-valves/

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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