00:10 GMT +319 August 2019
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    Workes close the door on the SpaceX Hyperloop tube during the SpaceX Hyperloop competition in Hawthorne, California on January 29, 2017.

    Hyperloop Looks Amazing, But How Viable and Safe is It?

    © AFP 2019 / Gene Blevins
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    Hyperloop,the controversial subsonic train Tesla and SpaceX's Elon Musk has been working on for more than four years now, is raising many questions with critics warning that the project is technically flawed and poses a risk to passengers.

    Still Faster Than Planes

    From a technological standpoint, the project looks pretty well thought-out, at least to the layman.

    • Speeds of over 700mph at 20 degrees Celsius are suggested for journeys, which is just below the speed of sound. A tube of flexible connected sections hinges on 6m poles with each section protected against the impact of earthquakes and temperature fluctuations.
    • The pod is set in motion by a linear electric motor with 4-kilometer-long electrical magnets placed 110 kilometers apart.
    • The pod will be moving inside a tube that has had some of the air sucked out to lower the pressure ensuring minimum air resistance for the moving capsule.
    • Oncoming air is sucked into the pod’s front section. Thus, the pod moving through, as opposed to pushing it in front of it and dragging it along behind. The air cushion will see the air pumped from the front of the pod to the rear via suspension cushions to stabilize the capsule.
    • Solar panels running on the top of the tubes could generate enough electricity to power the system. It could also run as an underground system too. The surplus energy generated by the system could be up for sale.

    Magnets Instead of Air Cushion

    Simultaneously, Jumpstarter Inc., enlisted the help of a hundred investors ready to join in on hopes of future revenue. The new company was called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT).

    HTT decided to get rid of the air cushion technology and switch to a more reliable and economical system of passive magnetic levitation.

    It relies on magnets placed on the underside of the passenger train in a Halbach array — an arrangement that focuses the magnetic field of a set of magnets on one side of the array while canceling out the field on the other side.

    Those magnetic fields under the train cause it to levitate as it passes over non-powered electromagnetic coils on the rail beneath the train at even low speeds created by an electric motor.

    Safety Concerns

    Safety. If the air cushion fails then the aluminum pod racing down the tunnel at the speed of a bullet, a fire is inevitable. The doors open only at stations, which means that passengers will not be able to escape.

    Turns. The tunnels will not always be arranged in a straight pattern. Elon Musk suggests running tunnels alongside existing motorways to save money on land purchase and leveling. Just how the pod will be able to execute turns moving at hundreds of kilometers an hour remains anyone’s guess.

    Stabilization. Stabilizing a moving pod inside the tube is another problem. Engineers will also have to develop a way to avoid vibrations, bouncing and other dangerous factors that may arise down the road.

    Vacuum. Maintaining air pressure of a one-thousandth of an atmosphere inside a 500km tube is a technological challenge no one has ever handled before.

    During the five years that have passed since Elon Musk proudly unveiled his plan to build the world’s fastest train, the Hyperloop project has lost fanfare, which means that the participants in the “subsonic” race will find it increasingly hard to raise money for their brainchild project.

    Related:

    ‘As If You’re Flying’: Hyperloop Train Successfully Tested for First Time Ever
    Bullet Train: Russia Working on High-Speed Projects Similar to Hyperloop
    Futuristic Finns Fancy Trans-Baltic Hyperloop to Tallinn
    Hyperloop Technology May Be Implemented Under China's Silk Road, Russia Projects
    Tags:
    vacuum, air cushion, subsonic train, solar panels, magnetic levitation, Hyperloop, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), Tesla, SpaceX, Elon Musk, United States
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