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Student team competes in SpaceX Hyperloop competition

Lehigh's "HyperHawk" was largest prototype in this round of competition, levitating for nearly an hour

In January, a team of Lehigh engineering students arrived in southern California, set up shop in Boeing’s satellite facility in El Segundo and got to work.

Their project: finishing and testing the "HyperHawk," a 3,300-pound, human-scale pod they designed and built for the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, which took place last weekend on a test track built by the aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company near its Hawthorne, California, facility.

Hyperloop, a magnetic levitation train meant to travel at high rates of speed in a tube with near-vacuum pressure, was introduced by SpaceX founder Elon Musk in 2013. In hosting the competition, SpaceX hopes to accelerate development of a functional prototype for Hyperloop.

The Lehigh team began development of the HyperHawk -- nicknamed "Mountain Hawk Heavy" -- in Fall 2015. Its initial design earned the team an invitation to the Hyperloop Pod Competition Design Weekend at Texas A&M University in January 2016. They remain the only all-undergraduate student team to extend this far into the competition, having faced off against 26 other teams, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Virginia Tech and Carnegie Mellon University.

Lehigh's prototype, while one-fifth the size of the proposed Hyperloop, was the largest pod remaining in the competition, weighing in at three times the weight of any other participant. capable over accelerating over 200 mph.

Team member and materials science and engineering sophomore Emma Isaacs '19 believes Lehigh's pod "is one of the most scalable designs due to its ability to create compressed air used for levitation, rather than relying on an air tank to supply the compressed air."

HyperHawk, which contained batteries from Tesla and other cars along with the compressor, was able to levitate for 45 minutes.

“I know that I am contributing to the development of the transportation technology," said materials science and engineering and marketing major Tech Tanasarnsopaporn '19, "and I cannot wait to see what kind of technological advancement myself or other people who were inspired by the project may create in the near future."

Three teams -- MIT, Delft University of Technolgy (Netherlands), and the Technical University of Munich (TUM). -- were selected from the field to perform actual test runs in the Hyperloop. Delft's pod arrived by plane, but the team was not permitted to bring its self-made batteries aboard, instead using electrical bicycle batteries.

Despite going with it's backup battery plan, Delft performed well, earning the highest overall score of the competition. Munich's WARR Hyperloop clocked in ahead with the fastest pod at 58 mph, while MIT took home top marks for safety and reliability.

Lehigh, while seen as one of the more commercially viable prototypes in the competition, will look at some other options in advance of SpaceX's next round of competition this summer.

“This is not a one-time event,” explained Steve Davis, SpaceX’s director of advanced projects. Davis announced that the next competition, schedule to take place again in Hawthorne, will award top honors based on speed.

This entire experience, say the students, has benefitted them even beyond the exhilaration of possibly contributing to the future of transportation.

“Lehigh Hyperloop [has taught] me things I’d never learn in the classroom—it has jumpstarted my experience in the real engineering world,” says Isaacs. “I am incredibly impressed by what my team has done.”

Isaacs, Tanasarnsopaporn and industrial and systems engineering major Gencer Ates ’19 have already begun the design phase in advance of of this summer's next competition.

Read the original story at the Lehigh University News Center.

-Kelly Hochbein, Assistant Editor with Lehigh University's Office of Communications and Public Affairs, contributed to this story.

January 31, 2017

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