27 March 2019
Day and night, forty students from Delft University of Technology’s hyperloop team are working on their Atlas 02.
With this advanced vehicle, they are allowed to participate in the International SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition this summer in California. They expect to be able to increase their chances of winning this competition because they will soon have access to a special test track on Voestalpine Railpro’s site. ‘With this test track, we hope to take a first small step towards the realisation of hyperloop,’ says team captain Rieneke van Noort. She provided documentation and explanations prior to the presentation of the Innovation Awards during the RailTech Europe exhibition on Tuesday evening.
The competition was created in 2015 by entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX to advance the development of hyperloop. The hyperloop system is an innovative transport concept in which a pod – a vehicle capable of carrying passengers or goods – moves through a sealed vacuum tube. Due to the lack of air resistance or friction, the vehicle can attain very high speeds. A vacuum test tube with a length of approximately 1 kilometre has been constructed on the SpaceX site, especially for this competition. Participants must drive their vehicle, which they have built themselves, through this test tube at the highest possible speed.
Faster than the speed of sound
The current Delft student team has to defend its name. Each year, an entirely new team steps forward at Delft University of Technology and has one year to create a design and a working vehicle. In 2017, the Delft team won the worldwide competition and last year its successors took second place.
“This year, we aim to come first again and we want to improve the world record, which currently stands at 467 kilometres per hour. Elon Musk has promised a bonus to teams attaining a speed higher than half the speed of sound: 617 kilometres per hour. Of course, this is our goal”
Rieneke van Noort, teamcaptain
Like other team members, she has placed her studies on the back-burner so she can fully devote herself to the hyperloop competition this study year.
Originally, the students expected that they might be able to test their pod in one of the as yet unused tubes of the tunnel near Delft’s new railway station. Ultimately, this fell through, but the team now is able to make use of a facility at Voestalpine Railpro in the city of Hilversum. Strukton will be constructing a 380-metre long aluminium I beam between the rails of the tracks located there, which will serve as a test track. ProRail is sponsoring the track.
The students expect to be able to start testing in May. This is when the track, as well as the vehicle will be ready. The team is currently working on manufacturing the components for their pod in the DREAM Hall, a large production hall with the necessary machinery. This hall is located on the university’s campus and students from various faculties can build and test their designs here. Van Noort: ‘We test all components on a flywheel; for example, to assess whether the configuration of the wheels and the carbon fibre chassis can withstand the forces exerted on them. Assembly will commence on the first of April. We expect this to take two weeks. After that, we will be conducting various tests to assess whether the software is working properly and whether the vehicle in fact can be controlled remotely. We have a partner on campus with a large vacuum tube, where we can vacuum test the vehicle to prevent short-circuits or the swelling of batteries. If all goes well, we will start testing on Railpro’s extended test track in Hilversum on the first of May.’ This track is not really comparable to the one in California. Not only is it more than fifty percent shorter, it also does not have a tunnel tube in which to create a vacuum, as is the case on the competition track. That would become far too expensive, and furthermore is not really necessary, according to Van Noort. After all, the necessary vacuum tests have already been conducted on campus. In Hilversum, the main concern is testing speed.
Adjusting the design
The key materials used for the pod are carbon fibre for the chassis – because of its light weight and strength – and aluminium – light and easy to work with – for most components. The vehicle is approximately half a metre wide and one and a half metres long, covered with a cap that is approximately two metres long. Every new hyperloop team extensively reviews the design of its predecessors before getting down to work. ‘Ultimately, this means that the design becomes more advanced each year. In comparison to Atlas 01 of the previous team, we have decided on certain changes. For example, the previous vehicle had a large motor and a large wheel. We have opted for multiple smaller ones. However, we will continue to use batteries and electric motors.’
Although the Delft team is allowed to travel to California, it is not at all certain that the students will be allowed to participate in the actual competition on the 21st of July. ‘Approximately twenty teams will be traveling to the United States. Prior to the competition, there is a test week during which you must demonstrate that your vehicle is safe and reliable, and capable of attaining high speeds. Ultimately, only a few teams will be given access to the competition tube. “Many teams lack the facilities required to conduct proper testing. Van Noort is happy that this year Delft Hyperloop has good facilities with a great test track.
“We have spent six months developing our design, but it is impossible to foresee everything in your design. You only discover any weaknesses during production and testing. In fact, you can only start solving any problems that you may have created in your design, after the design phase.”
Rieneke van Noort, teamcaptain
Hyperloop as a means of transport
Although hyperloop might seem futuristic today, the Delft student team believes this form of transportation could become reality within a few decades. We will then be seeing speeds of over 1,000 km per hour, rather than the speed of over 400 km per hour attained during the SpaceX pod competition. According to Van Noort, this means that already now we need to take a serious look at the conditions required to make this possible.
The hyperloop requires a completely new infrastructure. ‘That will require significant investment,’ Van Noort concedes, but compared to the price of airline tickets, she expects these investments can be recovered within a few decades. She considers the hyperloop as a fast and environmentally-friendly alternative to flying for transport between cities at a medium distance from each other. The Amsterdam-Paris route comes to mind, for example. The Delft students have developed a comprehensive network of cities in Europe that could be connected together very fast through means of a hyperloop system. ‘This would make it possible to replace seventy percent of flights between cities.’
Click here to see the video of testing the hyperloop.
This news item is based on reporting by Spoorpro.