As we all know, Elon Musk’s big new idea, the Hyperloop is an open source project in the hands of millions of engineers across the Globe to make it a reality. You must also be aware of the number of controversies that have come up due to this concept.
The most common controversy being the practicality of creating and maintaining a vacuum that runs the full length and volume of the track. Creating a vacuum is very expensive, time-consuming, and requires special equipment. At the time of writing this article, world’s largest vacuum chamber is housed by The Space Power Facility at NASA Glenn Research Center’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. It has an approximate volume of 2.7×104 cubic meters. Now let’s say the Hyperloop Tube connects from Los Angeles to San Francisco (~350 Miles). According to the design by a team of OpenMDAO software framework, the diameter of those tubes would be a bit more than 4 meters. So, taking that into account, theoretically, the total volume of vacuum to be created comes up to 7.08×106 cubic meters. That might seem like a small difference, but it’s much more than that! It would take a whole lot of time to create a vacuum of such a huge volume of air, and is not economically feasible. All this, assuming ideal conditions that no crack or leak occurs along the 350 Miles long track exposed to our harsh atmospheric pressure.
This is where my concept comes into action:
Instead of making one single long cylindrical tube of Vacuum, we can segment it into much smaller parts. Say, each segment would be around 100 meters long. That would create a meaningful number of segments. These segments would be secluded from each other using powerful motorized sliding doors that would be vacuum sealed.
The air in each such individually sealed segment can be sucked out to create secluded vacuum chambers. Even if there is a leak in one of the tubes, the whole tube would not collapse due to each tube being sealed individually. There would be pressure sensors in each of the segments to continuously monitor the pressure inside them. If and when any anomaly is detected in any of the segments, it can instantly notify the control center and the automated control system would automatically shut the doors (if previously open) or keep the doors closed (if previously closed) to keep the damage contained in that particular segment until further repairs are made. This, not only cuts down the cost and time consumed for maintenance, but also provides a fail safe for any kind of natural disaster, like earthquakes.
This also provides a solution to the fact that every time the Hyperloop pod stops at a station, instead of re-pressurizing and depressurizing the whole the tube, now, only the concerned segment(s) can be re-pressurized and depressurized making the process much faster.
While the pod is travelling at high speeds, the doors in-front of it would open and the doors behind it would close at a very fast rate so that segmentation of track is maintained without hampering the speed or operation of the proposed Hyperloop transportation system. It is true that a risk factor is associated with such a design, as to the fact that if any kind of malfunction takes place in the opening or closing the doors, then a disaster is inevitable. Say, for example, a delay in opening the doors ahead of the pod travelling at a speed of 700-1000 km/h, would cause a devastating accident claiming the lives of all the passengers. Thus, to avoid this, there has to be fail safe systems installed such that any such delay will be handled by the backup control systems.
These seem to address most of the issues related to making a huge vacuum.
Disclaimer: This is my personal hypothetical idea to address some of the concerns that have come up with the Hyperloop concept. None of it has been practically tested, as per my knowledge at the time of writing the blog.