The US Air Force’s 846th Test Squadron has broken the world speed record for a maglev vehicle by sending a 900kg sled down a 640m track at a speed of 1,019km/h.
The sled, which achieved an acceleration of 280m per second per second, was powered by a rocket, which meant that the role of maglev was confined to providing a frictionless surface for the sled to travel over.
A video of the sled in action at the Hollman air force base in New Mexico can be seen here.
The superconducting magnets were cooled to four degrees above absolute zero using liquid nitrogen. This has the effect of smoothing the "surface" provided by magnetic repulsion.
Lieutenant Colonel Shawn Morgenstern, commander of the 846th Test Squadron, said his team would now look for ways to break the record again. He said: "We want to look at some lighter materials and continue to see what kind of capability we can get out of this system in terms of the speeds that we’re capable of going."
The experiment, which took six months to set up, is part of a long-term effort by the air force to achieve faster ground speeds. The ultimate aim of the team behind this experiment is to reach a hypersonic speed of Mach 10, or 12,350km/h. A sled travelling between New York and Los Angeles at this speed would arrive in about a quarter of an hour. Â
According to Morgenstern, the experiment is part of a "developmental system", with no specific application in mind. However, is likely to add to growing interest in the possibility of maglev transport in the US. Elon Musk’s Hyperloop has already gained a lot of media attention, and preliminary work on designing a commercial system began last year.
Unlike the USAF sled, the Hyperloop uses linear induction rather than a rocket, and reduces friction by sending pods through vacuum tubes to achieve ground speeds that are comparable with that achieved by civilian aircraft.
And Japan has been conducting a campaign to sell the US its maglev technology, possibly in the form of a link between Baltimore and Washington DC.
Image via the US Air Force