Musk Unveils Vision of Superfast Solar-Powered Mass Transit

Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and previously PayPal, has a history of accomplishing what most people consider un-doable.

Now, he’s unveiled his vision for superfast solar-powered mass transit, the Hyperloop.

Rather than building extremely expensive, but still slow, high speed rail, he says, the elevated Hyperloop would carry people and cars between San Francisco and LA in a mere 30 minutes.

It’s the stuff of science fiction, but it’s been dreamed of for almost a century. Tubes mounted on columns 50-100 yards apart would contain pods that travel up to 800 miles an hour.

Walk into a pod (or drive in with your car) … and take off!

Hyperloop

The self-powered system would safely move people twice as fast as an airplane (slightly slower than the speed of sound) and wouldn’t be affected by weather conditions.

While many news outlets already say it won’t work, no one thought Musk could make a successful electric car. Way more  awe inspiring is his creation of the first privately owned space firm, SpaceX.

He’s got his hands full with Tesla and SpaceX, but says he may develop a prototype to prove it can be done.

It would be a lot less expensive than high speed rail. Right now, California expects to spend $70 billion, which could end up being closer to $100 billion, says Musk. There’s also a difficult process of acquiring land rights in places like farms where the last thing farmers want is a train blocking parts of their property. 

Hyperloop tubes would run mostly along Interstate 5, the highway that connects Los Angeles and San Francisco. Musk estimates it could be built for just $6 billion with people-only pods and another $4 billion for larger pods that can carry cars. And it would be four times as fast as the high speed rail line that breaks ground this summer. 

Each pod would be separated by about five miles for safety reasons, so about 70 pods (each hold 28 people) could depart every 30 seconds.

"It makes sense for trips like L.A. to San Francisco, New York to D.C., New York to Boston and that sort of thing," Musk told Bloomberg Businessweek. "Over 1,000 miles, the tube cost starts to become prohibitive, and you don’t want tubes every which way. You don’t want to live in Tube Land." 

Thus far, most of the criticism revolves around the energy needed to propel the pods. But Musk has thought through that issue – the tubes would be under low pressure and pods would be mounted on thin skis that glide across a cushion of air.

Musk explains it this way:

"Inside the tubes, the pods would be mounted on thin skis made out of inconel, a trusted alloy of SpaceX that can withstand high pressure and heat. Air gets pumped through little holes in the skis to make an air cushion. The front of the pod would have a pair of air jet inlets-sort of like the Concorde.

An electric turbo compressor would compress the air from the nose and route it to the skis and to the cabin. Magnets on the skis, plus an electromagnetic pulse, would give the pod its initial thrust; reboosting motors along the route would keep the pod moving. And: no sonic boom. With warm air inside the tubes and high tailwinds, the pods could travel at high speeds without crossing the sound barrier."

"The pod can go just below the speed of sound relative to the air," he told Businessweek. "When you arrive at your destination, another motor absorbs your kinetic energy and puts it into a battery pack, which is then used to provide the source energy for accelerating the next pod." 

UCLA Physicist Martin Simon told Bloomberg that it seems technically feasible, all accomplished through known technology.  

It turns out there’s another company, ET3, that’s patented very similar technology and is happy to see Musk promoting the idea, which could get it the attention they haven’t been able to.

Musk has made the concept open-source and invites the public to improve the design, as well as innovators to develop and commercialize it:

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