The ‘Hyper-Fast’ Hyperloop Transport System

Deepak Halan is associate professor at School of Management Sciences, Apeejay Stya University

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Imagine waking up early morning in Mumbai, leaving for Pune to have breakfast with a friend there, and returning that same morning to attend your Mumbai office in time. Yes, it is possible with the Hyperloop Transportation System (HTS), which travels at supersonic speed of 1216 kilometres per hour, enabling you to cover the distance from Mumbai to Pune in less than twenty minutes. And all this without the routine long journey to the airport and the waiting in queues.

The HTS consists of high-pressure capsules moving in partially evacuated tubes at speeds of up to 1216kmph. This mode of transport is intended for superfast travel between large cities and is the brainchild of Elon Musk, general director, Tesla Motors, who is also the creator of payment system PayPal and the SpaceX company, the first non-governmental organisation that successfully put a spaceship in orbit.

The Hyperloop Transport system works on renewable energy and promises to transport people from one point to another in little over half the average time taken today by airplanes. The cost works out to about less than half the air-ticket price and hence the system can prove to be the right solution for high-traffic city pairs that are less than 1500km apart.

Comparatively, it is safer, faster, cheaper, more convenient, immune to weather, environment-friendly and sustainably self-powered. It will bring radical change to the way we travel.

An artist's rendition of passengers riding a Hyperloop Transport capsule
An artist’s rendition of passengers riding a Hyperloop capsule (Source: https://bits.blogs.nytimes.com)

How Hyperloop Transport works

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In Hyperloop transportation, custom-designed capsules or pods zip smoothly through continuous steel tubes that are held at partial vacuum. The pod that sandwiches the passenger compartment between an air compressor upfront and a battery compartment in the rear is supported by air caster skis placed at the bottom. The skis float on a thin layer of air provided under high pressure, eliminating rolling resistance and allowing pod movement at high speeds. These capsules are planned to be driverless with speeds of more than 1000kmph. Linear induction motors placed along the tube control the pod speed. Electronically-assisted acceleration and braking determines the capsule speed.

During the pod’s journey, an inlet fan and compressor push high-pressure air from the nose to tail. This action along with the partial vacuum eliminates most of the drag and boosts the speed. Low power consumption and reliance on existing infrastructure after re-engineering are the big positives. The complete system operation is designed to be automatic using extensive safety control systems with redundancy and supported by captive software.

The first Hyperloop transport system in the world is under implementation between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It will travel this distance in flat 35 minutes with a planned capacity of 840 passengers per hour. The system will transport as many as six million passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco every year.

Increase in the demand generated due to the lower cost of travelling on Hyperloop is expected to be met by shortening the time interval between capsule departures. Due to the short travel time and frequent departures, there is expected to be a continual flow of passengers through each Hyperloop Transport station. In order to ensure safety, security checks are to be made in the traditional manner as done at airports.

All ticketing and baggage tracking for the Hyperloop Transport System will be handled electronically, thus negating the need for printed boarding passes and luggage labels. Luggage would be stowed in a separate compartment at the rear of the capsule, in a way similar to the overhead bins on passenger aircrafts. This luggage compartment will be removable from the capsule for stowing and retrieving luggage to be undertaken separately from embarking or disembarking the capsule’s passenger cabin.

Tesla and SpaceX's Elon Musk-the originator of the idea
Tesla and SpaceX’s Elon Musk-the originator of the idea (Source: www.businessinsider.com)

The transit area at the Hyperloop terminal would be large and open with two large airlocks signifying the entry and exit points for the capsules. An arriving capsule would enter the incoming airlock, where the pressure is equalised with the station, before being released into the transit area. The doors of the capsule would open so that passengers could disembark. The luggage pod would be quickly unloaded by the Hyperloop staff or separated from the capsule so that baggage retrieval does not interfere with the capsule turnaround.
Once vacated, the capsule will be rotated on a turntable, and aligned for re-entry into the Hyperloop tube. The departing passengers, and their pre-loaded luggage pod, would then enter the capsule. The capsule would be moved forward into the exit airlock, where the pressure is lowered to the operating level of the Hyperloop, and then sent on its way.
The role of ‘IT’ in shaping the Hyperloop

Way back in September 2013, Ansys Corporation conducted computational fluid dynamics simulations to model the aerodynamics of the capsule and shear stress forces that the capsule would need to endure. Simulation revealed that the capsule shape required considerable fine-tuning to prevent supersonic airflow. It was also inferred that the gap between the tube wall and capsule would need to be increased.

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