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Winners Do Not Waste Mass

By Jorne van der Ploeg | July 15, 2019

In 2019 the Delft Hyperloop student team will once again compete in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. The team has successfully participated twice before, resulting in a first and second place finish. In this competition student teams from around the world design and build a hyperloop pod prototype. This summer they will meet again at the SpaceX headquarters to race each other in a 1.2 kilometer long vacuum tube, with only one goal in mind: going as fast as possible and bringing the title back to Delft again.

Our goal is to not only break the current hyperloop speed record of 467 kilometer per hour, but to also exceed half the speed of sound. As you can imagine this is a tremendous engineering challenge. Not only does our pod need to accelerate to top speed but also brake to standstill again, all within the limited distance of the test tube. This requires us to constantly work on the edge of what is technologically possible.

The pod has to be both fast and reliable, if it does not brake in time a solid steel door will be the harsh reality for the pod. Therefore, our braking system has to work 100% of the time, there is zero margin for error in this critical subsystem. We increase the reliability of the braking system by making it fully redundant, but also by closely monitoring the system. This is where Althen Sensors & Controls comes into play, by providing very small, lightweight but still accurate pressure sensors which we implement in the braking system. More specific, the engineers at Althen reviewed our needs for the sensor and came with a suggestion of which they thought would work best for us. This turned out to be the EB100 – Miniature pressure sensor. This is a very small sensor which can still achieve a high accuracy. Furthermore, it is was very easy to incorporate these sensors into our pneumatic system design because they come with a metric M5 thread. This allowed us to easily screw the sensor in a connection piece that was attached to the actuation system.

The sensors offer us real time information about the pressure within the pneumatic actuation system both during the final run as well as during various leak tests. The high accuracy of the sensors allows us to detect even the smallest leak in the system, giving us the opportunity to remake a leaky connection. Ultimately improving the overall performance of the system. However, the main reason to implement the sensors in the system is that this allows us to use the sensor data during the final run to constantly monitor the pressure in the system. This way the navigational algorithm can calculate the braking distance at any moment during the run and adjust the point to brake accordingly. Therefore, allowing us to know the pod’s braking distance at any time during the run. Consequently, we can keep on accelerating for as long as possible without accidentally hitting the steel door at the other end of the tube or coming to a premature stop. These kinds of small ingenious solutions allow us to push the limit even further and get the most out of our pod.

In short, the sensors which Althen Sensors & Controls supplies us with allows us to get the most out of our cutting-edge prototype. This is achieved by measuring the pressure in the braking system and constantly recalculating the braking distance using the data from the pressure sensors. This makes it possible to keep accelerating for as long as possible, which ultimately leads to reaching higher speeds. Bringing us one step closer to winning the 2019 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition.