SpaceX’s annual Hyperloop competition is no stranger to composites. For the past two years, the winning entries from university students competing in the company’s annual test to create the best futuristic pod for high-speed travel have all heavily featured CFRP.
This year, Arizona State University’s AZLoop team hopes to become the latest to win the competition with a composite-intensive pod. AZLoop will head to SpaceX in Hawthorne, Calif., later this month to pit their design against nearly 20 other collegiate teams.
“The next phase of rocket and aircraft construction will switch from aluminum to composites like carbon fiber and fiberglass — exactly the kinds of materials we’re working with for Hyperloop design,” said Leann Scott, the manufacturing team leader for AZLoop.
For this year’s competition entry, the manufacturing team wanted to minimize weight and add stiffness to the chassis and pod designs with more extensive use of lightweight carbon fiber, but didn’t have the needed expertise. Josh Bowen, the AZLoop president, told Scott that if she needed outside expertise, she’d have to go out and find it.
She reached out to Composites One, a leading composites distributor in the aerospace and transportation industries. Two weeks later, the company sent a technical expert from its Southern California office to work with AZLoop on design and processing strategies, a commitment that has continued for five additional trips. Two engineers from the Phoenix office are regular advisers during the team’s Friday-night work sessions. “(They’re) both here getting their hands dirty and making sure we don’t mess it up,” said Scott with a laugh.
“Our entire team learned resin infusion techniques,” she said. “Composites One helped us create prototypes and build practice molds, working with us to figure out how the battery box, electrical wiring and propulsion components would fit into the design.
“These problem-solving and implementation experiences will give us a major advantage when we hit the job market.”
A third-generation engineer — both her parents are electrical engineers and her grandfather was a chemical engineer — Scott said she was taught from an early age to look at a problem and figure out how to proceed: “When I was 6, our Slip ‘N Slide was missing a part, so I figured out how to make it work by connecting the hose to the slide using duct tape and a funnel.”
Scott graduated from Perry High School in Gilbert, Arizona, and said being the oldest of three siblings gave her some good team-management skills, as does guidance from her father, a team manager at Intel.