For a little over a year Tesla and SpaceX visionary Elon Musk has been talking about a revolutionary new way to travel called Hyperloop. Today he announced his designs in a 57-page document, ending months of speculation by the public and media alike.
Musk himself admits that the plans for Hyperloop Alpha, released on both the SpaceX and Tesla Motors websites, is likely to contain "errors of various kinds and superior optimizations for elements of the system," but that didn't stop us from pouring over the plans the minute they were released.
Hyperloop, according to Musk, is the fastest way to travel long distances, short of the invention of teleportation. The solar-powered system would transport passenger capsules through pressurized steel tubes at speeds up to 760 miles per hour. The tubes will be elevated by reinforced concrete support pylons and run along existing highway routes, in order to reduce cost and land requirements.
Hyperloop Alpha purposes a high-speed route along Interstate 5, from Los Angeles, Calif. to San Francisco, Calif. The estimated duration of a one-way trip is approximately 30 minutes. The capsules would depart as often as every 30 seconds, carrying up to 28 people each, according to Musk's plan.
"The capsules are supported via air bearings that operate using a compressed air reservoir and aerodynamic lift," explains the document. "Linear accelerators are constructed along the length of the tube at various locations to accelerate the capsules."
Musk was initially drawn to the idea out of disappointment in the current California high-speed rail system. Musk asks, "how could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and [NASA's jet propulsion laboratory]--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?"
A system of elevated tubes and capsules won't come at a bargain. The cost of the capsules alone will be in the range of $100 million and the cost to construct and install tubes is in the billions. The total estimated cost of the Hyperloop Alpha system is $6 billion. That may sound like a lot of money, but not to Musk. "Even several billion is a low number when compared with several tens of billion proposed for the track of the California rail project," says the document.
Still, Musk recognizes the system's limitations. The plans admit that Hyperloop only makes sense for journeys that max out at around 900 miles. Beyond 900 miles, supersonic jets become not only a more economic option, but also a faster one.
TRANSLOGIC Editor Adam Morath contributed to this report.
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