Elon Musk Unveils Hyperloop Concept

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In June, Tesla CEO, SpaceX founder, and former co-founder of Paypal, Elon Musk, hinted at the idea of a super-futuristic public transportation vehicle called the Hyperloop. Rumors swirled around the web of a tube-like system with capsules traveling so fast that one could go from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than an hour.

Today Musk released the first designs of the much anticipated Hyperloop transportation concept. If the concept becomes reality, a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco would only take 35 minutes, and a one-way ticket would only cost $20.

elon musk
Elon Musk at All Things Digital’s D11 conference

The idea for Hyperloop came about when Elon Musk first heard about the California High Speed Rail Project. Unimpressed, Musk describes his frustration,

“How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL- doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars- would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?”

According to Musk, a new alternate mode of transport would ideally be:

  • Safer
  • Faster
  • Lower Cost
  • More Convenient
  • Immune to Weather
  • Sustainably Self-Powering
  • Resistant to Earthquakes
  • Not Disruptive to Those Along the Route

The initial Hyperloop concept addresses every one of these issues.

Hyperloop Alpha, a 57-page document, was published today on the Tesla blog and goes over the open-design concept Musk envisioned for the revolutionary transportation system. The Hyperloop would be powered with solar energy, have a maximum speed of 760mph, and have the ability to transport passengers 350 miles in 35 minutes. Even more impressive is the fact that this high-speed concept would only cost just under $6 billion (compared to the projected $70 billion California High Speed Rail Project).

Hyperloop Concept Diagram

So How Would It Work?

Passengers would be secured in individual pods that are enclosed in sealed capsules. These capsules, each carrying 28 pods, would be propelled through partially evacuated cylindrical steel tubes that span the entire 350 mile-long distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Every 30 seconds a pod would be launched into the tube. Elon Musk likens it to “…getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland.” An additional larger capsule design has been included with the concept that could carry up to three full-sized automobiles.

Initial Hyperloop Capsule Conceptual Design Sketch

The capsules would be suspended using air bearing skis (instead of a conventional wheel-and-axle system) and flow through the reduced pressure tubes with the help of linear accelerators and a front-end air compressor on each capsule to reduce air resistance. To keep passengers comfortable, capsules will lower their speeds on turns along the tube, with passengers experiencing, at most, 1 G-force.

Hyperloop Tube
Hyperloop Tube Cutaway with Capsule and Solar Panels

The proposed system is designed to transport 840 passengers per hour; making it more than capable of accommodating the 6 million passengers that currently travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco every year. However, if the project comes to fruition, demand will likely increase to an estimated 7.4 million passengers per year.

Amortizing the $6 billion cost of the project over 20 years, with the estimated 7.4 million passengers per year, plus operation costs, places a one-way ticket at just over $20.

Unfortunately, Musk will not be taking on the project just yet, as his hands are full overseeing the production of electric vehicles and advanced rockets and spacecraft. He clarifies, “Down the road, I might fund or advise on a Hyperloop project, but right now I can’t take my eye off the ball at either SpaceX or Tesla.”

If you would like to read the full document for more details, or to study and scrutinize all the physics involved, view the Hyperloop Alpha PDF. The document also provides suggested future routes to other high-population west-coast cities like San Diego, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Fresno. Any feedback on the project is welcome by Tesla Motors and SpaceX.

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