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Jinan-made ‘electromagnetic sled’ sets world record

China has launched the world’s most powerful magnetic propulsion system, capable of accelerating a carriage to 1030km/h (640mph), just under the speed of sound, state media reported on Thursday.

The “electromagnetic sledge”, built in Jinan, Shandong province by the Institute of Electrical Engineering under the Chinese Academy of Science, will “provide test conditions and support Chinese research in advanced materials, aerospace and ultra high-speed transport,” an article on the Jinan government website said.

Unlike a previous rocket sledge, the carriage on the electromagnetic sledge does not have to carry fuel, and boasts better response times and controllability.

The facility offers scientists the chance to solve problems that have plagued high-speed travel, such as material properties, aerodynamics and control system calibrations.

The advancements that produced the new speed record will boost the development of new transport technology, including trains and planes, according to a report on China Central Television.

The Jinan site is the world’s first ground-based, ultra high-speed test facility using electromagnetic fields, the report said.

To propel a carriage weighing a few tonnes to a record speed, researchers said they had to overcome significant engineering and technological challenges – such as designing and building a high-thrust linear motor and a 100-megawatt power system.

The facility’s power supply consists of two main components: coils mounted inside the carriage and a track to provide a strong magnetic field. Once a current is switched on in the coils, the magnetic field generates an electromagnetic force to push the carriage forward.

Similar mechanisms are used in rail gun weapons where the barrel serves as the track for bullets.

By floating above the rails, maglev trains are capable of lower friction, higher speeds and less pollution. The trains also generate less noise and vibration and offer a more comfortable ride.

The 3.3 billion yuan (US$456.58 million) project could become an important part of China’s drive to build a fleet of high-speed maglev trains.

The scientists previously developed an electronic control system for the world’s first 600km/h maglev transport system in Qingdao, Shandong province. That trial project ended in July 2021.

The fastest commercial maglev train still in operation was built by Shanghai Transrapid with German technology and can cruise up to 431km/h. It operates on a 30km track between the city’s airport and a transit hub. According to some experts, China is planning new maglev train routes over longer distances.

“Without a doubt, the electromagnetic sledge will benefit China’s research in related fields and drive the rapid development of cutting edge technologies, such as conversion and control of high-power electricity, superconducting under strong magnetic fields, and ultra high-speed electromagnetic propulsion,” a report in the Jinan Daily said in February 2020.