System design of a high speed ground vehicle lifted by air bearings




McGinniss, James Roland

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In 2015, SpaceX announced an international competition for student teams to design and build prototype pods to compete on a one-mile test track at their HQ in Hawthorne, CA. The track would be contained in a partial vacuum tube, and student teams were given near free reign in their design and build process. Of considerable interest in Hyperloop development is what mechanism of lift it should use—magnetic levitation or air bearings. In this Thesis, a novel approach is taken to the system design of a pod capable of levitating itself with compressed air, or air bearings. By doing so, drag is essentially eliminated from the system, and the pod will be able to travel at very high speeds with little power requirements. Building a half-scale pod and testing it on the track is considered a feasible way to test air bearings at high velocities. Since that has never been done before, the main goal of this research is to design and build a pod capable of doing so, given the input parameters provided by SpaceX. The prototype pod detailed in this thesis has been designed and built, and will be tested on the SpaceX test track. A new air bearing design is proposed for future work. While the SpaceX competition gave motivation for this work, the research conducted in this thesis, including evaluation of various levitation and braking mechanisms, design methodology, and parameter design, are applicable to other engineering challenges.


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