Navigant Research Blog

Musk’s Hyperloop Vision Takes Shape

Jenny Gerson — August 12, 2013

After months of speculation, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has published his plan for the “Hyperloop” – a superfast transport system that, in theory, can transport people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes and could be built for 10% of the cost ($6 billion) that the California High Speed Rail Authority is currently spending on a train between the two cities ($68 billion).  A combination of the Concorde, an air hockey table, and a rail gun, the system could also, according to the Silicon Valley billionaire, produce more energy than it consumes.

Musk’s 57 page Hyperloop-alpha plan outlines the construction, operation, safety, and cost considerations for this new form of transportation, which hurls small capsules through two elevated tubes.

Composing 40 capsules that hold 28 passengers each, the Hyperloop would transport passengers from L.A. to San Francisco for $20 one-way, based on a 20-year amortization of the $6 billion cost to build the system.  The whole system could be powered by solar arrays on the outside of the tubes.

Each aerodynamically designed capsule, or pod, contains an air compressor, a compressor motor, space for passengers, and a battery pack (among other, smaller components).  The air compressor at the front of the capsule takes in air as the capsule moves through the tube.  Most of the air is dispelled out the tail of the capsule, which helps decrease drag and air pressure at the front of the capsule.  Vacuum pumps create low air pressure within the tube to further decrease drag. Some air is compressed, cooled, and pushed out the bottom of the capsule to produce an air cushion on which the capsule is suspended.

Now Go Build It

The capsule is accelerated and decelerated by a linear induction motor; the rotor of the system is mounted on the bottom of the capsule; and a stationary component that provides power to the capsules is attached to the inside of the tube.  At cruising speed, the capsule coasts on a cushion of air.

Musk proposes that the Hyperloop be constructed on top of the I-5 corridor to minimize right-of-way issues.  The steel tubes, which could be prefabricated and welded together onsite, would be mounted on pillars 20 feet to 100 feet tall.  The whole system would require 21 MW of energy annually and would produce 57 MW with the solar panels attached to the top of the tubes.  Energy is stored in each capsule’s battery pack.  Musk’s plan also takes into account safety issues such as earthquakes, power outages, and other emergency situations.

Whether this futuristic vision will ever be realized is questionable.  For his part, Musk says he is currently too wrapped up with Tesla and SpaceX to tackle another revolutionary transportation technology.  He’s inviting others to take on the task of building the Hyperloop.

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