SpaceX Hyperloop Design Weekend

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Engineers Push the Limits of Maglev in SpaceX Hyperloop Competition

Hyperloop designs for a SpaceX competition

Note: This article was updated Dec. 1, 2015

Elon Musk has conquered the internet, renewable energy, and outer space. On August 12, 2013, he set his sight on high-speed transportation. Nova Track, a team of Prescott Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students, has signed up to help Musk make that a reality thanks in part to a recent $2,500 Eagle Prize from the Undergraduate Research Institute (URI).

Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) is sponsoring a competition to design and build a 14-foot half-scale Hyperloop pod to test in a functional Hyperloop prototype that solves the design and safety challenges related to high-speed travel in a closed-tube, space-like system at .001 atmospheres. The pod is projected to reach top speeds of 700 mph and will need safe mechanisms to propel and stop it.

Musk’s August 12, 2013 blog details his vision, “If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive…It should ideally be: safer, faster, lower cost, more convenient, immune to weather, sustainably self-powering, resistant to earthquakes, and not disruptive to those along the route. Is there truly a new mode of transport – a fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats – that meets those criteria and is practical to implement?”

“Yes, a new mode is possible,” said Max Starkel, Team Lead and senior in Aerospace Engineering. “But there are a significant number of problems that must be solved first. This challenge is pushing the limits of what we know about magnetic propulsion, compression ratios, and software. We have to develop new technology plus adapt current technology and use it in a way that’s never been done before.”

Eli Olson, original founder of Nova Track and junior in Aerospace Engineering, explained that the 11-member group includes Aerospace, Electrical, Mechanical, and Software Engineers, plus an Industrial Psychology and Safety student. Their individual areas of expertise are the perfect combination for this project.

The pod uses electromagnetism for propulsion which is presently being tested in Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains. Magnetic levitation, maglev, allows the trains to hover while traveling, thus reducing friction to zero. Not only will maglev technology produce high speeds but it is the safest propulsion option for the Hyperloop closed-system environment and passenger scenario. 

Tube specifications were recently released from SpaceX, moving the team from research and literature review to the initial design phase where they are tackling the problems of starting and stopping, among others.

“Now we can design in earnest,” said Starkel. “I am not going to reveal our design but I can say that the limitations and restrictions from SpaceX is sparking a lot of passionate conversations. We are all learning valuable lessons about choices and compromise, and especially about budget within a project of this magnitude. This is a real design, a big design. It’s way beyond theoretical and it’s exciting. ”

The Initial Preliminary Design deadline is November 13, 2015. Nova Track hopes to attend and present at the January 2016 Design Weekend in Texas where, according to the website, “the best and brightest engineering minds from around the country and globe” will converge.

For more information on Nova Track, contact Max Starkel at or Eli Olson at

UPDATE: Prescott team advances in competition

Congratulations to the Hyperloop team, which has received an official invitation to the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition Design Weekend at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX, on January 29-30, 2016. The SpaceX notification to those moving on indicated they were extremely impressed with the large number of high-quality Preliminary Design Briefing submissions received, and look forward to seeing the full presentations at Design Weekend.

"We all worked so hard on this. It's great to be selected for the design weekend," said Starkel. "Seven of our nine team members will be making the trip thanks to an additional $1,000 grant from the Embry-Riddle E-prize program."

In the next four weeks, the team must finish the design and selection of materials for every subsystem on the pod including safety, braking, computer, and propulsion. Additionally, they must identify a single dollar-value for the cost of building the pod that is below six figures. According to SpaceX "this is one of the true challenges of this competition - creating a safe and reliable system that is financially reasonable to build."

At the Design Weekend, the Embry-Riddle team will present its final design, including the results of computational fluid dynamics computer modeling simulation tests that prove the design will work, and pitch for corporate sponsorship. Teams selected to move forward will meet again at final competition weekend this summer in Hawthorne, CA, where the selected pods will compete at the SpaceX Hyperloop Test Track.