Take 2 for Paradigm Hyperloop at SpaceX competition next month

The Paradigm Hyperloop team knows the meaning of hard work, dedication, and perseverance. 

Eighty students from Memorial University and Northeastern University in Boston are feverishly collaborating to stage a comeback at this year's SpaceX competition in California, designed to support student innovation and Hyperloop in particular — a potential mode of transportation.

Their Hyperloop would theoretically cut travel between St. John's and Corner Brook — nearly 700 kilometres — to about 30 minutes. 

With some teams, members take time off school to work exclusively on their pod. But these students do it on top of their regular classes and work terms. 

"We're in school 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the day, we have homework we have to do, we have to study but we still carve out four, maybe even six hours a day to work on this project," said Stephanie Adey, the team's mechanical designer and diversity and inclusion lead.

Katie Breen/CBC

Two years ago Paradigm dominated at SpaceX, earning second place and international attention with an unproven technology. But last year, the team's proposal didn't qualify for the competition. 

"I think that made everyone a bit more committed to wanting to do better and proving ourselves," Adey said Monday, adding there were some growing pains and learning curves for the team to overcome. 

New year, new design

Now Paradigm Hyperloop is back with a completely redesigned pod and a place at the SpaceX competition less than a month away. 

"We're competing with schools like MIT, like the top teams in Europe, like top teams in the world. And we're really proud to show that Newfoundlanders, or Atlantic Canada or Boston, we can compete at that level," said Nathan Power, the team's project manager.

Instead of levitating their vehicle, they're using a battery-powered electric motor, which means the new pod is lighter and roughly half the length, one third the width of the previous one. It also features pneumatic brakes. 

"This new pod, it's essentially built right from scratch," he said, based on what they've learned and the fact teams are now going for top speed at the competition.

"Last time we had a top speed of 100 km/h, whereas this time we're doing about 450 km/h, which is a very drastic difference. But since we've made all those changes, we're able to achieve those technological goals," said Power, explaining they test on a 1.6-kilometre long track. 

Tough competition

Software lead Liam Waghorn said there's a lot of competition leading up to the main event. 

"Every time another team posts something everyone is always zooming in on the pictures trying to figure out, 'Oh, how are they doing that?' And, 'Oh, is that going to work, I wonder?' And, 'Oh, that's crazy! Did you see so-and-so's propulsion system?' And it's exciting to do that," he said. 

The team will soon ship their new and improved pod to California to find out if all their work has paid off, and see how different designs stack up. 

"I think we're going to do quite well. I'm looking forward to all of this work that we've been putting in, seeing it finally come together," said Waghorn.

Glory on the line

On Tuesday morning, the team unveiled the new pod to the public, explaining the design changes and providing an update on the project as the team enters the last couple of weeks before the competition.

There are 22 teams from around the world competing this year, said Adey.

"We just want to help develop the technology, so we're all going down there with hopes that we'll have some key part in that."

Eddy Kennedy/CBC

She said the team learned from mistakes made last year, including how to integrate new team members and communicate between different groups.

"There were design things that we just weren't quite able to fine-tune enough to get into the competition, so we took all of those learnings and made sure to implement them in our pod and we started early to make sure that we could do a good enough job for the competition," she said.

And if they win?

"Just the glory of knowing that we were the fastest pod," she said. "I think, for us, that is enough satisfaction, with all of the hours that have been put into a project like this, just knowing that we made it into the tube, knowing that we were the fastest pod is enough for us."

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