China and the United States are “neck and neck” in the race to develop military applications for an ultra high-speed “Hyperloop” transport system, according to a Chinese researcher involved in one of the projects.
The technology under development would involve loading passengers into pods and projecting them through vacuum tubes at high speeds.
The researcher said some of the research in China and the US was funded by the military as the technology may have defence applications.
A US team developing the technology carried out a test in the Nevada desert earlier this month.
A basic prototype hyperloop vehicle was fired along an open-air track and reached 187 km/h just 1.1 seconds after launch.
One centre researching the technology in China is the State Key Laboratory of Traction Power at Southwest Jiaotong University in Chengdu in Sichuan province.
One of the team, Professor Zhao Chunfa, said he was not impressed with the trial in the US
“On a straight rail several kilometres long we can accelerate to over 1,000km/h without much difficulty using existing technology,” he said.
Zhao is a senior scientist developing a high-speed train operating in a vacuum.
It will use magnetic levitation, or “maglev” technology, to raise the vehicle above a track and reduce friction.
The PLA is interested in vacuum train technology for several reasons, according to Zhao.
Launching a missile from a vacuum tube, for instance, could reduce its fuel consumption by 60 per cent to 70 per cent, he said. That meant a missile could fly much further or carry more warheads.
Vacuum train technology could also be used to launch fighter jets on aircraft carriers, said Zhao.
Some research teams were also conducting experiments to send small military satellites into orbit from a vacuum tube, he said.
Another area under intensive research is to combine the vacuum tube with a railgun.
A railgun uses electromagnetic forces to destroy a target with high energy particles and vacuum train technology may make it easier to accelerate projectiles to extremely high speeds, according to a Chinese researcher in the field who asked not to be named.
China and the US are taking different approaches to develop the technology, according to Zhao.
Most Chinese researchers used maglev systems to lift the vehicle into the air to avoid physical contact with the rail, which would generate enormous friction and heat at high speed.
The maglev approach is less popular in the US, according to Zhao.
Full article: China ‘matching US’ in race to develop Chinese ‘Hyperloop’, says researcher (South China Morning Post)