Even if you have never heard of the HyperLoop pod competition, you are likely familiar with SpaceX, the company who launched the competition last year. They’re hoping this open-sourced initiative, involving university teams from around the globe, will aid in developing a unique, new mode of transportation, one that would propel levitated passenger “pods” through low-pressurized steel tubes at speeds of more than 700 mph. As originally envisioned, it would be solar powered, use tube-embedded linear accelerators and on-pod air compressors for propulsion, and feature a levitation system passive in design, relying on air-bearing “skis” on the pod’s underside for suspension (in contrast to the electromagnets or superconducting magnet technology used in maglev trains).
For the next step in the crowdsourced competition, SpaceX is building a prototype 1-mile track at their California headquarters, where human-scale pod designs from 32 teams will be put to the test later this summer. Because the track will allow for different vehicle technologies to be tested, some teams have designed pods that incorporate magnets for levitation/suspension on magnetic rails. Among these is a team that Lake Shore Cryotronics is sponsoring: the Vhyper team from Virginia Tech. As a Vhyper Partner, we have supplied them with magnetic test instrumentation, a Model 460 gaussmeter and our 3-axis MMZ-2502-UH probe capable of measuring vector DC/ELF magnetic fields. The instrumentation is being used to test their pod’s permanent magnet architecture, which will not only levitate the pod but also provide braking power.
What the Vhyper pod design exactly looks like, in terms of drag-reducing aerodynamics, its on-pod propulsion system, stabilization, control, and other factors, remains to be seen. We know permanent magnets will certainly play a part, but how else their prototype differs from the one envisioned by SpaceX’s Elon Musk is anyone’s guess. We’ll post an update at a later date.