China is vaulting headlong into the fascinating world of high-tech, futuristic transportation.
And it’s doing so in the most unique way possible.
You see, China’s newest innovation isn’t a conventional mode of transport.
It’s not a car or high-speed train. You won’t see it blasting through the skies, either.
On the contrary, in fact.
This radical technology burrows deep underground.
Where’s Our Next Concorde?
It seems improbable that in our high-tech world, we haven’t managed to find an upgrade from the supersonic Concorde aircraft. A vessel that will zip us between continents in a fraction of the time it takes conventional planes.
Launched commercially in 1976 before being retired in 2003, due to prohibitive costs and some high-profile disasters, Concorde was a feat of engineering. I personally remember a couple of awe-inspiring moments at airports when I saw it firsthand.
But in terms of speed, nothing has matched it since then.
As it turns out, though, the answer to supersonic travel doesn’t actually reside in the skies; it lies underground.
Or, more specifically, under the sea…
To Go Supersonic, You Need Supercavitation
At China’s Harbin Institute of Technology, scientists are harnessing the power and velocity of a torpedo, and applying it to a submarine that would be able to hit supersonic speeds.
Now, even if your science knowledge is merely basic, you’ll spot an immediate issue here…
How the heck do you get a submarine to travel at such speed through a substance as dense as water?
I mean, certain aircraft can hit these speeds, as air isn’t as dense. But they still face wind resistance and drag.
The Chinese scientists are using a concept known as supercavitation.
Originally developed by the former Soviet Union military during the Cold War, supercavitation basically means creating an air bubble around an undersea vessel. This shields it from water resistance and propels it through water at high speed.
To refresh your memory, this involves blasting passenger capsules through vacuum tubes (thus eliminating drag) at speeds of up to 4,000 mph.
So how fast can we go with supercavitation?
To Infinity… And Beyond
Back in the day, the Soviets used supercavitation to crank up the speed of their Shkval torpedo to 230 mph, with a range of 6.8 miles to 9.3 miles.
That destroys the top speed of many conventional torpedoes – around 31 mph.
But as technology has improved, so has the potential speed.
The South China Morning Post cites research from the California Institute of Technology, which says that supercavitating submarines could hit an astonishing top speed of 3,600 mph.
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That’s not a typo.
It could catapult you from San Francisco to Shanghai in just over 90 minutes.
You could cross the Atlantic in less than an hour!
Our world would shrink dramatically.
Indeed, having managed to create the air bubble needed to achieve supersonic speed in an undersea vessel, Li Feng-Chen, a professor of fluid machinery and engineering at the Harbin Institute of Technology, says, “We’re very excited by its potential.”
The question is: How close are we to this mind-boggling concept becoming a reality?
A Bubblicious Challenge
As you might imagine, designing a submarine capable of such a feat isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
For starters, achieving this incredible speed while inside an air bubble requires some serious engineering prowess.
To generate and then maintain the bubble, for example, the sub needs to be propelled from a starting position at around 60 mph.
Think of it like how a rollercoaster accelerates from a crawl to high speed in a matter of seconds.
But doing that in water poses a greater challenge.
As Professor Wang Guoyu, Head of the Beijing Institute of Technology’s Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, states, “The size of the bubble is difficult to control, and the vessel is almost impossible to steer.”
To maintain such high speed, the sub would need to remain completely inside the bubble, away from the water.
At that point, it needs to be able to steer while staying in the bubble, as well.
The Chinese are on the case…
First, the team’s technology would spray a constant liquid membrane on the outside of the vessel. That would reduce drag and allow it to build up speed.
In addition, this substance would create enough friction to be able to steer the sub.
The bigger problem, however, is finding the technology that could take these supercavitation subs across oceans.
To achieve these distances, Li Feng-Chen says they’ll need to design a powerful underwater rocket-propelled engine.
Do You Feel the Need for Speed?
Russia and China aren’t the only ones working on supercavitation. But right now, it’s essentially a top-secret military technology, so attempts to take it mainstream into an area like consumer transit are at an embryonic stage.
And like Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, it’s a massive technological challenge.
But that’s why the world has tech geniuses and big, visionary thinkers.
And in the same way as I’d jump at the chance to ride in the Hyperloop, I’d hop aboard this “super sub” in a heartbeat.
At best… it would be an incredibly thrilling, new-age way to travel.
At worst… if it fails spectacularly and you get vaporized… well, what a way to go! It would cut down on exorbitant funeral costs, too!
How about you? What do you make of this futuristic travel idea?
Drop us your thoughts below.