Hyperloop: Future or fantasy?

Hype or hope? BBC reporter Rory Cellan-Jones visits Virgin Hyperloop One’s test track near Las Vegas.

So, here’s the plan – we’re going to load you into a pod, and then shoot you at 700 mph (1,123 km/h) through a vacuum, taking you to your destination in minutes rather than hours.

That is the rather unlikely pitch of Hyperloop One.

But the remarkable thing that struck me on a recent trip to the project’s test site in Nevada was that nobody thought it was, well, remarkable.

The Hyperloop idea, first floated by Tesla’s Elon Musk, has sparked a number of projects keen to demonstrate that putting a maglev train in a vacuum tube can deliver the revolutionary transport system of the future.

Maglev – or magnetic levitation – trains, which use magnets to lift a train above rails, reducing friction and increasing possible speeds, are already in operation. One takes passengers from Shanghai to its airport at 270 mph (430 km/h).

But of the plans to put make a maglev even faster by putting it in a vacuum tube, Hyperloop One – or as we must now call it following Sir Richard Branson’s investment, Virgin Hyperloop One – is the most advanced.

Arriving on the site in the desert 40 miles north of Las Vegas, you can immediately see this is a costly operation to run.

A 500m (1,640ft) test track, or Devloop, has been constructed and a workforce of 300, including 200 high-calibre engineers, has been assembled.

They have run a number of tests, propelling a pod through the tube at speeds of up 387km/h (240mph).

So far, however, they have not put people on board.

Leading the engineering team is a fast-talking space scientist Anita Sengupta, recruited from Nasa where she helped develop the Mars Curiosity rover.

Having worked on what she describes as the “challenging engineering problem” of landing vehicles on other planets, she brushes aside my doubts about whether this earthbound project is realistic.

She gestures towards the white pipe snaking across the desert: “It’s a realistic project because you can look around and see our development test tube.”

She says the technology has already been proven and dismisses my suggestion that people might be cautious about climbing aboard.

Continued here.

via Tallbloke’s Talkshop


January 20, 2018 at 06:27AM

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