Cal Poly Hyperloop President and mechanical engineering senior Sam Flood and his team only had 15 minutes to answer questions fired at them before the Skype call was cut off. The stakes were high – on the other end of the call were SpaceX engineers that would decide the future of the project the team had been working on since July 2018. If the engineers found them worthy, they would be entered into the final round of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition and would compete in a drag race for the fastest pod.
“We know our pod very, very well,” Flood said. “We designed it to be simple, really effective, and they recognized that.”
About 200 schools entered the first round of the competition, and only 22 made it to the final round. Cal Poly’s Hyperloop team was informed Feb. 22 that they were part of the 22 teams.
In July, the team will travel to Hawthorne, California to race their pod at SpaceX’s headquarters.
“It was pretty uncertain that we would make it,” aerospace engineering freshman and Hyperloop manufacturing team member Kevin Hamel said. “No first-year team has ever made it to [the final] stage.”
“No first-year team has ever made it to [the final] stage”
This is Cal Poly’s first ever Hyperloop team. The SpaceX competition itself is is just returning for the fourth time, having begun in 2015.
Cal Poly Hyperloop Club | Courtesy
The club’s main goal is to build a pod that emulates a train, which will travel in a one-mile vacuum tube at SpaceX’s headquarters. The idea is to build a pod that can travel the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco in around 37 minutes. No one has ever achieved this speed before. With their math and calculations, the club’s pod has been estimated to travel about 200 mph. While this is not quite as fast as the speed needed to reach the goal, the team said they were excited for the opportunity.
“It’s all going to be over in 30 seconds. We’re going to hit a button, and it goes, and all of our hopes and dreams will go with it for 30 seconds, and then it’s over,” Flood said.
The club went through three rounds of elimination, including a preliminary design review, a 120-page final design review and, lastly, an interview with SpaceX engineers. In July 2019, the Hyperloop team will compete with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Technical University of Munich, Purdue University and other teams all over the globe in the finals. Each team will receive three 30-second chances to see if their pod will be the fastest to speed down the mile-long tube.
“The competition is really just about getting into the competition, and after that it’s easy,” physics senior and Hyperloop treasurer Mackenzie Duce said.
Flood began the club April of last year with a friend and held an interest meeting for the Hyperloop club — a club dedicated to SpaceX’s competition. Since April, 202 members have joined, and the team has split into sections to work on their pod.
“It’s definitely grown way past anything I expected or wanted,” Flood said. “It’s amazing, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
The only step prior to their final race is to submit a 200-page safety report in Spring 2019 to prove their pod will stop while in SpaceX’s tube.
“We’re going to load something that is going to go 200 mph, and [SpaceX] just [has] to trust that we know enough of what we are doing that it’s going to stop and not break their $6 million tube,” Flood said.