HypED Blog 3: SpaceX II
How did it go?
Overall, the SpaceX competition in California was a success for us at HypED. We met key developers of Hyperloop technology from around the world and had the chance to showcase Poddy McPodface. Our design was highly regarded by the SpaceX judging panel, with several points of recognition.
As expected, the team schedule only became busier when we arrived in the Golden State. The days leading up to the competition were spent finalising the assembly in the Urban Workshop: mounting skis and magnets, assembling lateral guiding rollers, and finishing the software and electronics for pod hydraulics. The only time spent outside the workshop was spent sleeping back at the temporary HypED headquarters; an average night's sleep lasted approximately 5 hours.
Three days prior to the Sunday competition day, Poddy McPodface was contained in SpaceX grounds where all assembly operations were then moved. To stand a chance to test the pod in the vacuum tube, a series of preliminary tests were carried out: a structural test to approve travel up to 40 m/s, a fit test to ensure the pod could successfully pass along the guide rail, and a safety test to check the pod would cope with low pressure and not present any fire risk. These tests were passed but unfortunately, the software safety systems on our pod were not fully functional, eliminating the chance to try out in the vacuum tube.
Eight teams passed all functionality tests but even then only three teams were selected to test their pods in the tube.
Who were the standout teams?
Clearly, the most notable mentions here are the winners of the competition, WARR University from Munich, who managed to reach the record speed of 201 mph in the vacuum tube. Furthermore, the two other teams who managed to test their pods in the tube were Paradigm from North America and SwissLoop from Switzerland. Honourable mentions extend to HyperPod X, BadgerLoop, and GuadaLoop who were all awarded innovation prizes by SpaceX. The team from Tesla were not entrants in the competition but set the overall speed record, reaching 220 mph in the vacuum tube.
HypED received recognition for full-scale dummy testing with our very own Dummenic, kindly provided by Ruth Lee. Our design was also recognised for being entirely electronically powered and magnetically levitated, avoiding the use of air tanks.
What were the biggest successes and the biggest failures for HypED and generally in the competition?
Reaching the competition from a pool of over 150 entrants and being selected as one of 25 finalists was a fantastic achievement for our team - this culminated from the tireless efforts of the technical team with over one year of design work. This success was compounded because this year was the first in which the HypED team completed both the design and build stages of the competition. Organising international logistics for 24 people and our pod was a task in itself. Additionally, our members are all undergraduate students, making the team quite unique.
The competition successfully brought together international teams of ambitious and innovative individuals and, although competing with one another, allowed everyone to gain a wider perspective of the Hyperloop sphere. Being able to see 25 unique designs and approaches to thinking was a testament to the creativity involved in technological development. All teams, including HypED, received feedback on their pod design from SpaceX and Tesla engineers; this feedback is invaluable for technological progression.
Although the event was a success in many ways, there are several areas left to improve upon. We did not have the chance to test our pod in the vacuum tube, which was the ultimate goal, so this is a clear opportunity for the future. Our technical team were unable to fully test the pod functionality prior to the competition due to the highly specialised design and lack of testing resources within the university. Interdependencies accumulated and reached a critical stage too late to be fully resolved in time for competition day.
Even then, some teams had (theoretically) fully functional models but were not selected to run the final competition vacuum tube tests. Actual competition testing time was very limited with only the Sunday morning to test the pods; this time pressure reduced the number of teams able to showcase their design.
What are the next steps for HypED and for Hyperloop?
Next year, SpaceX will be running a repeat of this competition: SpaceX III. The priority for all teams leading up to this event is Improving designs to increase speed, efficiency and safety. Our work will continue for both the SpaceX and Hyperloop One competitions. We aim to complete all functionality tests over the next year whilst pushing for more facilities within the university.
At HypED, we will be building on the strength of our 50 person team – this will include developing research initiatives within the university to develop our members. The final year Mechanical Engineering students involved in HypED have proposed several Masters thesis proposals to optimise the pod design and to assess unique safety concerns related to low-pressure environments. We are currently pursuing STEM research applications for subsystem development and generated technologies from Hyperloop development.
At the same time, we aim to raise Hyperloop awareness within the university in both students and staff. Again beyond this, we are looking to roll out opportunities within education for school students to inspire the next generation of future-thinkers to continue developing Hyperloop through to fully implemented infrastructure. We will be unveiling the pod to the public to engage interest from talented students and helpful parties.
What does the future look like for Hyperloop?
The SpaceX competition and other recent developments have proven that the Hyperloop concept is realistic on a small scale, although this still needs to be proven on a larger scale. International teams must continue working both independently and cooperatively to develop the technology to improve the prototype technology. With several competing test facilities emerging, an important aspect would be the standardization of the technology to avoid interoperability challenges.
Aside from manufacturing, a growing desire to understand societal impacts is emerging. However, estimating the economic and environmental impact remains a challenge given the multitude of non-linear relationships and induced effects of a hyperloop system on the existing environment. This remains a key focus area of the HypED team as we aim to provide a comprehensive perspective on Hyperloop becoming a reality.
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