China’s looking to one-up Elon Musk’s hyperloop

Hyperloops, the developing mode of transit that promises to zip people frictionlessly in pods and tubes, have long been associated with the innovations and dreams of billionaire Elon Musk. More recently, however, it’s captivated the imaginations of others, including, now, a Chinese aerospace giant. The China Aerospace Science and Industrial Corporation (CASIC), a well-heeled newcomer to the mass transit industry, is betting big on its supersonic T Flight ‘flying train.’

The company announced on August 30 its plans for an intercontinental hyperloop train with a top speed of over 2,300 miles per hour, or Mach 3.  For comparison, Elon Musk’s initial proposal called for a 745 miles per hour hyperloop to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco. And the current fastest bullet trains, in Germany and China, have top speeds in the range of 180-215 miles per hour.

What makes CASIC think this is possible? For one, its got 150,000 employees. Last year it made $30 billion, with a profit of $1.5 billion. It’s got the resources.

CASIC

Let’s talk about the structure of T Flight. Keep in mind this is all theoretical. The transport capsule would be a light-and-easy 20 tons and measure nearly 7 feet wide, more than 7 feet tall, and about 117 feet long. Each capsule would seat 16 people in twin rows of 8, plus luggage in a compartment at the back

The load would be propelled and lifted less than an inch off the surface by superconducting magnetic levitation (maglev) modules, which means there’s no friction between the car and the line. The network would consist of two tubes per line—each tube is strictly one-way only—with built in maglev systems, and would be powered in large part by the solar panels on top of the tubes. Given the high speeds and high-traffic density of T Flight capsules at any time, operations would be highly automated, and possibly AI-aided.

 RAPID LAUNCH

Each T Flight station would have a turntable to rapidly launch capsules. Unlike traditional trains, which have multiple attached cars journeying together, hyperloop systems generally intend to send multiple unattached capsules departing every few minutes. The high speeds mean even capsules launched within a few minutes of each other will have miles of distance between. For a three-destination network with an annual capacity of 8 million passengers, each leg of the network would need to launch and recover a 16-passenger capsule every 3.15 minutes.

CASIC

How close is this to becoming a reality? CASIC has already made some preparations. It’s researched and registered 200 patents for the T Flight, aiming to finish research in 2020. Liu Shiquan, CASIC’s Deputy CEO, said that CASIC is aiming to partner with 20 domestic and international companies to realize the first stage of the “flying train” plan. That plan: a regional network of capsules that zip some 8 million people a year around Wuhan, China. Speeds would range between 370 and 620 miles per hour.