“Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop: foundations of this innovative means of transport through the highlights of its evolution”
Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop made headlines worldwide in November 2020 after conducting its first passenger tests. But what are the foundations of this innovative means of transportation? We trace the most important moments in its evolution.
The Virgin Hyperloop is a futuristic transportation system that uses vacuum tube technology to transport passengers and cargo at speeds of up to 1200 km/h. The idea of using vacuum tubes for transportation dates back to the 19th century, but it is only in recent decades that the technology has evolved enough to make a functional transportation system possible.
Virgin Hyperloop was founded in 2014 by Josh Giegel and Brogan BamBrogan, former SpaceX employees, along with successful entrepreneur Richard Branson, who has invested in this groundbreaking technology. The first on-track test was carried out in 2017, when a prototype vehicle covered a distance of 500 meters at a speed of 308 km/h.
First tests with passengers on board Virgin Hyperloop
In November 2020, Virgin Hyperloop conducted its first passenger test, with the vehicle traveling at a speed of 172 km/h. This was a significant milestone for the Virgin Hyperloop team, demonstrating that the technology can be safely used for passenger transportation.
Hyperloop technology has the potential to significantly reduce travel times, transforming mobility and logistics worldwide. The speed and efficiency of the system would allow passengers to reach destinations that would otherwise be too far to travel to in a short period of time, while freight transportation would be greatly improved thanks to the speed and precision of the system.
In summary, Virgin Hyperloop represents a breakthrough in transportation technology, promising to transform how people move and how goods are transported.
18th and 19th centuries: precursor projects of the hyperloop
Musk’s idea of building a super-fast alternative to trains, which would travel through a series of low-pressure tubes and be powered by a vacuum and maglev system, is based on studies dating back to at least three centuries ago.
One of the earliest people to imagine a prototype of Hyperloop railway technology was the British inventor George Medhurst in the 18th century. Medhurst, who was a pioneer in the use of compressed air as a means of propulsion, filed a patent for a system that could move goods through a network of pressurized iron tubes in 1799.
20th century: Levitating capsules and air cushion technology
In 1909, Goddard wrote an article titled ‘The Limit of Rapid Transit’, in which he described a train that would travel from Boston to New York in just 12 minutes. Although it was never built, the project included some of the building blocks of Hyperloop, such as the presence of levitating pods and a sealed vacuum tube.
After World War II, attempts were made to build a system similar to the hyperloop. These included the Aerotrain, which was developed in France between 1965 and 1977.
Designed by French scientist Jean Bertin, the prototype of the Aerotrain was similar to a maglev train but relied on air cushions instead of magnetic resistance for propulsion. However, the lack of funding, the cost of infrastructure, and the death of Bertin in 1975 marked the end of the project.
In the 1990s, Professor Ernst Frankel and his team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) made significant strides in developing a vacuum tube train that could potentially transport passengers from New York to Boston in just 45 minutes, revolutionizing the way we travel. Despite the construction of a test track, this project was ultimately abandoned.
The 2000s: from ET3 to Elon Musk
This system would have been able to reach speeds up to 6,500 km/h and would have allowed passengers to travel from New York to Beijing in just two hours.
Patented in 1999 through an open consortium model, ET3 stands for Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies, which refers to a “network of tubes that have removed the air to eliminate friction for magnetically levitated, driverless capsules.
Yes, that’s correct. While Musk first mentioned the concept of the hyperloop in 2012 at a PandoDaily event, it wasn’t until August 2013 that he revealed the first project details in a white paper titled “Hyperloop Alpha
In a 57-page document, Musk detailed how Hyperloop Alpha would consist of closed capsules or pods – each carrying up to 28 people – that move through a system of tubes on skis that levitate on an air cushion.
The proposed Hyperloop Alpha was presented as a faster and electric alternative to the California high-speed rail and would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 35 minutes. Musk estimated the cost to be around $6 billion.
Musk decided not to patent the Hyperloop technology for himself, but instead released the project using an open-source model.
2013-2020: the birth of the hyperloop
in the years between 2013 and 2020, a handful of companies – including Virgin Hyperloop and Zeleros – began working on developing the system based on Musk’s designs.
Virgin Hyperloop, formerly known as Hyperloop Technologies and Hyperloop One, began actively working on the technology in May 2016, when it successfully conducted its first outdoor test in North Las Vegas. Two months later, the company released its first feasibility study, showing the positive economic and environmental impact of a potential 500km Hyperloop connection between Helsinki and Stockholm, reducing travel times between the two Scandinavian capitals to 28 minutes.
After showcasing the project’s design worldwide and conducting passenger application demonstrations, in October 2020, Virgin Hyperloop successfully conducted its first passenger test of the Hyperloop rail technology, addressing the biggest doubt about feasibility and paving the way for the next steps of the project.
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