How to Cross the Pacific In Under 2 Hours

Hint: move like a Soviet torpedo

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Right now, there are a huge number of people who are working on new ways for people to move around the planet. These range from the new passenger aircraft concepts being created by Boeing and Airbus, all the way to the futuristic ‘Hyperloop’ unveiled by Elon Musk. But what if the solution for rapid travel was not on land or in the air, but rather underwater.

A group of Chinese scientist seem to think this is indeed the solution. Based out of the Harbin Institute of Technology, they are reported to be building a submarine-like craft which has the capability to travel underwater between Shanghai and San Francisco in just 100 minutes. While this may seem like a crazy plan, there is actually a solid technical foundation to this attempt.

In order to allow a submarine to travel at such speeds, they intend to use a technique known as ‘supercavitation’. Used in super-fast Soviet torpedoes as well as by certain species of shrimp, supercavitation involves surrounding a craft with a gas bubble in order to reduce friction between the craft and the water.

Image: © 2014 Wikipedia

The problem with this technology is that it makes the craft incredibly difficult to steer, as propellers and other traditional steering means won’t work. In order to get around this problem, the Chinese team is experimenting with a design which utilizes a specialized liquid membrane which would coat the vehicle. By adjusting the amount of membrane present, the craft would be able to alter the its drag coefficient and thus steer.

Their research may be being hushed up for military purposes. 

While it is unlikely in the near future that such craft would be able to reach the supersonic speeds necessary to cross the Pacific in less than two hours, it nonetheless could move at incredibly fast speeds. Unfortunately, it seems the University of Harbin team has all of a sudden become press-shy since the initial report on their concept vehicle, suggesting that their research may be being hushed up for military purposes. As such, it may still be some years before we find out if such a vehicle is indeed possible.