Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, Paypal, and Tesla, says he has designed a revolutionary new transportation system that would be faster and cheaper than a high-speed train, and would run along I-5 and I-580. The aerospace engineer says there are still several kinks to be worked out, but the system would take passengers from L.A. to San Francisco in thirty minutes. That’s about a 400-mile, 5-6 hour trip when traveling by car.
Musk’s design includes capsules, or pods, that would carry 28 people each through a sealed tube. Each pod would depart about two minutes apart, but he says the maximum distance traveled should only be 900 miles. Beyond that, you’re better off taking air transportation. One of the many advantages to the system is that it would rest on large pylons above ground, yet wouldn’t have to take up much space. In face, Musk says it could feasibly be put inside the median on the interstate. In addition, the system would be completely self-powered.
“By placing solar panels on top of the tube, the Hyperloop can generatefar in excess of the energy needed to operate. This takes into account storingenough energy in battery packs to operate at night and for periods of extendedcloudy weather. The energy could also be stored in the form of compressed airthat then runs an electric fan in reverse to generate energy, as demonstratedby LightSail,” Musk says.
As far as the mechanics go, Musk describes how the pods would function:
“Hyperloop capsules will float above the tube’s surface on an array of 28 air bearing skis that are geometrically conformed to the tube walls. The skis, each 4.9 ft (1.5 meters) in length and 3.0 ft (0.9 meters) in width, support the weight of the capsule by floating on a pressurized cushion of air 0.020 to 0.050 in. (0.5 to 1.3 mm) off the ground. Peak pressures beneath the skis need only reach 1.4 psi (9.4 kPa) to support the passenger capsule (9% of sea level atmospheric pressure). The skis depend on two mechanisms to pressurize the thin air film: external pressurization and aerodynamics.”
The project is estimated to cost between $6 and $7 billion, but Musk says he’s not prepared to build or fund it himself.
“I think I kind of shot myself in the foot by ever mentioning the Hyperloop, because I’m too strung out,” he said. “Obviously I have to focus on core Tesla business and on SpaceX business, and that’s more than enough. If nothing happens for a few years, maybe it could make sense to make the Hyperloop happen with Tesla involvement. But, obviously, you shouldn’t be speculative.”
Image: Elon Musk