Somewhere in the middle of the New Mexico desert last month, a rocket-powered maglev sled screamed down a track at 633 miles per hour, shattering a world speed record. The test, more than six months in the making, was the direct result of years of research and development by the U.S Air Force's 846th Test Squadron.
"Today was the fastest test we've ever done with the Maglev," Lt. Col. Shawn Morgenstern, the Commander of the 846th TS, said in a release. "We went 633 miles per hour. Wednesday we went 513 miles per hour, and prior to that we went 510 — which was a couple years ago."
To achieve this new speed record for magnetic levitation, the Air Force built a one-of-a-kind sled system with a track length of more than 2,100-feet. To reduce friction, engineers liquid-cooled powerful magnets to 4 degrees Kelvin above absolute zero –– the coldest an object can possibly get. The result was an incredibly smooth ride that allowed the sled to crush the previous speed record.
As for the practical use for such a technology, the Air Force is first and foremost eyeing it for military applications. Eventually, however, it's likely that these advances will trickle into the civilian market. Maglev trains are currently operational in China, South Korea and Japan, with the latter setting a speed record on a test track of 375 mph in April of last year. The technology is also being eyed for future application in everything from hovering homes (to combat sea level rise) to concept spherical tires.
For the U.S. Air Force, the 846th TS's motto is "Go Mach 10," aka, hypersonic speed or 7,672.69 mph. At that speed, we might be able to send objects into orbit on a maglev track to the stars."It's really an honor to be a part of it," added Morgenstern. "Hopefully when I'm gone, they'll continue to do great work and develop new and better capabilities in the future."