UNSW students push the potential for vacuum travel

Image credit: Nyasha Nyakuengama, UNSW

Students from the University of New South Wales have been selected to compete in the 2019 Hyperloop Pod Competition.

A subsidiary of SpaceX, Hyperloop attempts to create a new method of long-distance travel where people travel through vacuum tubes in pressurised pods, at speeds similar to aircraft.

The competition, to be held on July 21, judges participants by one criteria, maximum speed, including a successful deceleration to finish within 30m of the end of the mile-long vacuum tube.

The team from UNSW had to condense their engineering process from the normal 18 months down to six, while competing against top universities around the world. In February the team were invited to go to the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Last year’s winner, the Technical University of Munich, achieved a top speed of 467km per hour.

In developing the project, the components used are largely off-the-shelf products, according to technical manager Francis McDonald.

“It’s such a simple idea, pretty much the best team is the one that goes fastest, but it’s also very complex, we’re dealing with vacuums, so we have to seal all our systems and that’s very interesting to play around with,” said McDonald.

The team’s design connects the internal machinery to a chassis which is enclosed within an aerodynamic shell.

“While we want this to be aerodynamic, it has to be also aesthetic and can conform to the regular engineering requirements that you would need for a Hyperloop pod,” said UNSW Hyperloop structures lead Yasmin Zaman.

In addition to the ability to test their engineering skills, the competition provides an opportunity for the students to connect with engineers from other countries and students who have similarly attempted to create a pod that can innovate travel around the world.

“The people who do compete and make it through the multiple rounds of elimination are quite revered in engineering around the world,” said Zaman.