Team Hyperlift finishes top ten at final Hyperloop competition

Franco Posa
Shown is the mile-long vacuum tube in which pods travel. Although Hyperlift was not able to test their pod in the tube, they were able to run their pod on an outdoor track.

Manar Ansari, Staff Writer

Team Hyperlift competed in the final stage of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition at Hawthorne, California, from Jan. 27-29. They designed and built a pod that levitates on a boundary of thin air and travels through a vacuum tube.

Competing against 27 teams worldwide, the team placed ninth in design and construction and received an honorable mention in performance and operations. The St. John’s team had the fewest number of members and was the only high school team. St. John’s finished higher than teams from the University of Denver, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Southern California.

“They are high school kids competing against top universities in the world. The fact that they were able to get invited to the competition is already amazing, but they went and held their own in every aspect,” team sponsor and physics teacher Nolan Harris said. “It was motivating as a teacher to see students doing something so special.”

On Jan. 20, the team flew to SpaceX headquarters in California, where they received safety briefings from a panel of advisers and engineers. Over the the next few days, the team had to pass 114 safety checkpoints before testing their pod in a vacuum tube. 

Team Hyperlift’s approach to design was simplicity. Rather than using a transducer, they used a camera to check if their tanks were vented. Because their pod used air bearings rather than magnets, which would require speeds of 30-40 miles per hour to levitate, Team Hyperlift was the first group to levitate their pod in a vacuum chamber.

Due to the large number of teams trying to use the same resources, each team had limited time for each test. Rain prevented them from fixing problems or using some test materials. Although Team Hyperlift had passed all checkpoints, they did not have enough time to test their pod in the tube.

During competition weekend, Team Hyperlift’s pod was judged on its performance throughout operations testing and on a 300-foot outdoor track. The team presented their pod to over 2,000 people at a public fair, attended by SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Hyperlift sponsors LogiTech and Nickelodeon.

Even in a competitive setting, Hyperloop was largely a collaborative effort because every team was working towards the same goal.

“All the teams wanted to help each other. They actually respected us and were very proud of us,” junior Elizabeth Awad said. “If we didn’t have a tool or a part, we could go ask any of the other teams and they would give it to us.”

During the All-School Convocation on Feb. 3, sponsor and physics teacher Franco Posa said that a Hyperloop director called St. John’s “the most loved team” in the competition.

“After the competition, we got congratulations from MIT, Warr and other teams,” senior captain Andrew Awad said. “They seemed to love us because we were so young, and they called us inspirational. We’re honored to even compete against such amazing teams.”

Their pod remains in California and will be displayed at the Nickelodeon headquarters in Los Angeles.

“The amount of support that we’ve gotten from this community and SpaceX has been great,” junior Robert Gottschalk said. “We extend some gratitude to St. John’s cause they’ve been very supportive of us. Without them it would have been much more difficult to get this accomplished.”