This past December, Virgin Hyperloop One broke the hyperloop world speed record previously held by Elon Musk’s SpaceX competition with a run of 240 mph (387 km/h); this is over 30% of the proposed 700 mph from Elon Musk’s white papers back in 2013. Moreover, this new record is a significant increase from Hyperloop One’s previous personal best of 192 mph.
Using a new airlock mechanism on the DevLoop test track found in the Nevada desert, Hyperloop One was able to reduce drag in the tube and reach the aforementioned 240 mph. This feat of engineering was accomplished using a row of small pumps, typically reserved for steel factories or meat processing plants, to drop the inside pressure of the tube to 1/1000th of typical atmospheric pressure. A 12-foot steel disk also slides into the other side of the tube that is opposite to the pumps to create a tight seal and allow the tube to still be in a vacuum without needing to pump it back up again. Currently, to operate the door takes about four hours which in the future can be optimized to shorter times.
Of course, the golden 700 mph goal is still far off. However, a 240 mph speed was reached using only a 500 meter test track. With that in mind, Hyperloop One believes that 700 mph can be reached with an additional 2000 meter in track. To accommodate for this additional distance, the process in which pods are stopped and re-entered into the vacuum tube needs to be faster as one of the biggest hurdles in the hyperloop concept is maintaining the vacuum. With longer distances, it gets harder to keep the vacuum and this poses a large design challenge for Hyperloop One. Adding more stops helps remedy this issue, yet may not allow enough distance between these stops to reach and keep the pod’s max speed.
In the end, these are promising times for the hyperloop and has us step a bit closer to one day seeing a 700 mph pod speed across the desert in a tube!