Proposed Hyperloop Route Between Toronto and Montreal!

In 2012, SpaceX founder Elon Musk unveiled his idea for what he called the “fifth mode of transportation”. Known as the Hyperloop, his proposal called for the creation of a high-speed mass transit system where aluminum pod cars traveled through a low-pressure steel tube. This system, he claimed, would be able to whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 35 minutes.

Since that time, many companies have emerged that are dedicated to making this proposal a reality, which include the Los Angeles-based company known as Hyperloop One. Back in 2016, this company launched the Hyperloop One Global Challenge to determine where Hyperloop routes should be built. Earlier this month, the winners of this competition were announced, which included the team recommending a route from Toronto to Montreal.

The Toronto-Montreal team (aka. team HyperCan) was just one of over 2600 teams that registered for the competition, a combination of private companies, engineers, and urban planners. After the field was narrowed down to the 35 strongest proposals, ten finalists were selected. These included team HyperCan, as well as teams from India, Mexico, the UK and the US.

The Toronto-to-Montreal route, one of ten winning proposals submitted to the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Credit:

As Rob Lloyd, the CEO of Hyperloop One, said about the competition in a company statement:

“The results of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge far exceeded our expectations. These 10 teams each had their unique strengths in showcasing how they will alleviate serious transportation issues in their regions… Studies like this bring us closer to our goal of implementing three full-scale systems operating by 2021.”

Team HyperCAN was led by AECOM Canada, the Canadian-subsidiary of the multinational engineering firm. For their proposal, they considered how a Hyperloop system would address the transportation needs of Canada’s largest megacity region. This region is part of what is sometimes referred to as the Quebec City-Windsor corridor, which has remained the most densely-populated region in modern Canadian history.

The region that extends from Montreal to Toronto, and includes the nation’s capitol of Ottawa, is by the far the most populated part of this corridor. It is the fourth most populous region in North America, with roughly 1 in 4 Canadians – over 13 million people – living in a region that measures 640 km (400 mi) long. Between the density, urban sprawl, and sheer of volume of business that goes on in this area, traffic congestion is a natural problem.

In fact, traveling from Montreal to Ottawa to Toronto can take a minimum of five hours by car, and the highway connections between them – Highway 417 (the “Queensway”) and Highway 401 – are the busiest in all of Canada. Within the greater metropolitan area of Toronto alone, the average daily traffic on the 401 is about 450,000 vehicles, and this never drops below 20,000 vehicles between urban centers.

In Montreal, the situation is much the same. In an average year, commuters spend an estimated 52 hours stuck in peak hour traffic, which earned the city the dubious distinction of having the worst commute in the country. To make matters worse, it is anticipated that population and urban growth are going to make congestion grow by about 6% in the next few years (by 2020).

Hence why team HyperCAN thinks a Hyperloop network would be ideally suited for this corridor. Not only would it offer commuters an alternative to driving on busy highways, it would also address the current lack of rapid and on-demand mass transport in this region. According to AECOM Canada’s proposal:

“No mode of transportation has existing or planned capacity to accommodate the growth in traffic along this corridor. By moving higher volumes of people in less time, Hyperloop could generate greater returns socially and provide much-needed capacity to accommodate the forecasted growth in demand for travel in the corridor.”

The benefits of such a high-speed transit system are also quite clear. Based on its top projected speeds, a Hyperloop trip between Ottawa and Toronto – which ideally takes about 3 hours by car – could be reduced to 27 minutes. A trip from Montreal to Ottawa could be done in 12 minutes instead of 2 hours, and a trip between Toronto and Montreal could be done in just 39 minutes.

And since the Hyperloop would make its transit from city-center to city-center, it offers something that high-speed rail and air travel do not – on-demand connections between cities. The existence of such a system could therefore attract business, investment, workers and skilled professionals to the region and allow the Toronto-Montreal corridor to gain an advantage in the global economy.

Of course, whenever major projects come up, it’s only a matter of time before the all-important aspect of cost rears its head. However, as Hyperloop One indicated, such a project could benefit from existing infrastructure spending in Canada. Recently, the Trudeau administration created an infrastructure bank that pledged $81.2 billion CAD ($60.8 billion USD) in spending over the next 12 years for public transit, transport/trade corridors, and green infrastructure.

A Hyperloop that connects three of Canada’s largest and most dynamic cities together certainly meets all these criteria. In fact, according to team HyperCAN, green infrastructure would be yet another benefit of a Toronto-Montreal Hyperloop system. As they argued in their proposal, the Hyperloop can be powered by hydro or other renewables and would be 100% emissions-free.

This would be consistent with the Canadian government commitment to reducing carbon emissions by 30% by 2030 (from their 2005 levels). According to figures compiled by Environment and Climate Change Canada, in 2015:

“Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 722 megatonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 eq). The oil and gas sector was the largest GHG emitter in Canada, accounting for 189 Mt CO2 eq (26% of total emissions), followed closely by the transportation sector, which emitted 173 Mt CO2 eq (24%).”

By allowing commuters to switch to a mass transit system that would reduce the volume of cars traveling between cities, and produces no emissions itself, a Hyperloop would help Canadians meet their reduced-emission goals. Last, but certainly not least, there is the way that such a system would create opportunities for economic growth and cooperation between Canada and the US.

On the other side of the border from the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor, there is the extended urban landscape that includes the cities of Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianaopli, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. This transnational mega-region, which has over 55 million people living within it, is sometimes referred to as the Great Lakes Megalopolis.

Not only would a Hyperloop connection between two of its northernmost urban centers offer opportunities for cross-border commerce, it would also present the possibility of extending this line down into the US. With a criss-cross pattern of Hyperloops that can whisk people from St. Louis and Pittsburgh to Montreal, business would move at a speed never before seen!

Given the litany of reasons for building a Hyperloop along this corridor, it should come as no surprise that AECOM and team HyperCAN are not alone in proposing that it be built. TransPod Inc, a Toronto-based Hyperloop company, is also interested in constructing Hyperloop lines in countries where aging infrastructure, high-density populations, and a need for new transportation networks coincide.

As Sebastien Gendron, the CEO of TransPod, recently indicated in an interview with Huffington Post Canada, his company hopes to have a Hyperloop up and running in Canada by 2025. He also expressed high-hopes that the public will embrace this new form of transit once its available. “We already travel at that speed with an aircraft and the main difference with our system is we are on the ground,” he said. “And it’s safer to be on the ground than in the air.”

According to Gendron, TransPod is currently engaged in talks with the federal transportation department to ensure safety regulations are in place for when the technology is ready to be implemented. In addition, his company is also bidding for provincial and city support to build a 4 to 10 km (2.5 to 6 mi) track between the cities of Calgary-Edmonton in Alberta, which would connect the roughly 3 million people living there.

When Musk first unveiled his vision for the Hyperloop, he indicted that he was too busy with other projects to pursue it, but others were free to take a crack at it. In the five years that have followed, several companies have emerged that have been more than happy to oblige him. And Musk, to his credit, has offered support by holding events like Pod Design Competitions and offering the use of his company’s own test track.

And despite misgivings by those who claimed that such a system posed too many technical and engineering challenges – not to mention that the cost would be prohibitive – those who are committing to building Hyperloops remain undeterred. With every passing year, the challenges seem that much more surmountable, and support from the public and private sector is growing.

By the 2020s and 2030s, we could very well be seeing Hyperloops running between major cities in every mega-region in the world. These could include Toronto and Montreal, Boston and New York, Los Angeles and San Fransisco, Moscow and St. Petersburg, Tokyo to Nagoya, Mumbai to New Delhi, Shanghai to Beijing, and London to Edinburgh.

Of course, that’s just for starters!

Further Reading: Hyperloop One, Huffington Post Canada

Second Hyperloop Pod Design Competition A Success

Back in 2012, Elon Musk proposed a revolutionary idea that he described as the “fifth form of transportation“. Known as the Hyperloop, his proposal called for the creation of a high-speed mass transit system where aluminum pod cars traveled through a low-pressure steel tube. This system, he claimed, would be able to whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 35 minutes.

At the time, Musk claimed he was too busy to build such a system, but that others were free to take a crack at it. Nevertheless, the SpaceX founder has remained involved in the Hyperloop’s development by hosting the Hyperloop Pod Design Competition, an incentive competition involving student and engineering teams. The second of these competitions was recently held and featured some impressive pods achieving impressive speeds.

The Pod Design Competition was first announced in June of 2015, and was quickly joined by over 700 teams. By January of 2017, 100 teams were selected to take part in the first competition, which was held from January 27th to 29th at the SpaceX’s Hyperloop Test Track (located in Hawthorne, California). Also known as the Hypertube, this track consists of a partial-vacuum steel tube that measures 1.6 km (1 mi) long and 1.83 meters in diameter.

Team MIT’s Hyperloop pod car design. Credit: MIT/Twitter

The winning design, which was provided by a team from MIT, consisted of a car that would rely on electrodynamic suspension to achieve a cruising speed of 110 m/s (396 km/h; 246 mph). Based on the positive response and submissions from the first competition, SpaceX decided to hold the Hyperloop Pod Competition II, which took place this past weekend (August 25th to 27th, 2017) at their Hypertube test track.

Whereas the first competition involved a series of tests designed to accelerate the development of prototypes, the second had only one criterion: maximum speed. The competition was open to both new and returning teams, the latter of which had already tested their pods in the first competition. Twenty-five teams registered in the competition, representing universities and technical institutions from all over the world.

But in the end, only three teams made the cut and competed on Sunday, August 27th, having met the pre-run criteria. The winning entry came from WARR Hyperloop, a team made up of student from the Technical University of Munich. During the test run, their pod achieved a top speed of 324 km/h ( 201 mph), which was far in excess of the second place team.

It was even more impressive than WARR’s previous test run during the first competition – where their pod achieved a maximum speed of about 93 km (58 mph). The WARR pod was also the only one that attempted to reach its maximum speed during the competition. Their success was due in part to the pod’s design, which is fabricated from carbon fiber to ensure that it is lightweight and durable.

Musk praised the teams effort during the competition and took to Twitter to post the results of the latest pod tests. As he tweeted at 17:32, shortly after the test run, “Congratulations to WARR team from Tech Univ Munich for winning 2nd competition! Peak speed of 324 km/h, which is over 200 mph!!”

Some additional comments followed later that day and on the following morning (Monday, August 28th):

“Might be possible to go supersonic in our test Hyperloop tube, even though it’s only 0.8 miles long. Very high accel/decel needed… To be clear, a Hyperloop passenger version wouldn’t have intense light strobe effect (just for testing), nor uncomfortable acceleration.”

“Btw, high accel only needed because tube is short. For passenger transport, this can be spread over 20+ miles, so no spilt drinks.”

“Will run the SpaceX pusher sled later this week and see what it can do.”

Musk posted the video of the WARR pod’s performance on Twitter and to his Instagram account (see below). He  also announced that SpaceX and his latest startup – The Boring Company – will be hosting a third pod design competition next year. The stakes, he claimed, would be even higher for this competition, with pods expected to reach speeds of over 500 km/h (310 mi) on the test track.

While this is still far from the speeds that Musk originally envisioned in his white paper – up to 1280 km/h (800 mph) – it does represent a significant progression. And with six startups now looking to make the Hyperloop a reality – including Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) and Hyperloop One – the only question is, how long before the “fifth mode of transportation” becomes a reality?

Be sure to check out this video of the test track during the first Pod Design Competition, courtesy of SpaceX:

Further Reading: TechCrunch, SpaceX, Instagram

First Hyperloop Technology Demo A Success

Back in 2012, Tesla Motors, Paypal and SpaceX founder Elon Musk made headlines when he announced his idea for a “fifth form of transportation“. Known as the Hyperloop, the concept called for the creation of a high-speed train that would use a low-pressure steel tube and a series of aluminum pod cars to whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 35 minutes. At the time, Musk claimed he was simply too busy with other projects to build such a system, but that others were free to take a crack at it.

Since then, two startups have emerged that are attempting to do just that. And just yesterday, the startup known as Hyperloop One (formerly Hyperloop Technologies) conducted a test on their full-scale test track located in the Nevada Desert. In what they referred to as a “Propulsion Open Air Test” (POAT), this startup passed a major developmental milestone, bringing them one step closer to making the dream of the Hyperloop a reality.

Using the same linear-accelerator motor that will one day propel podcars through a series of semi-pressurized tubes, the Hyperloop One’s engineers managed to accelerate their test vehicle down a rail track at speeds of up to 483 km/h (300 mph) before plowing it into a sand berm. While this is not quite the 1125 km/h (700 mph) that Hyperloop One hopes to get their pods up to (and there are still matter to work out, such as passenger safety) it is a major step forward.

For one, the test provided some valuable returns that showed that the startup’s eventual goal is realizable. Before it slammed into a pile of sand (on a count of the fact that they have yet to design a braking system) the engineers were able to confirm that the test car had managed to accelerate from 0 to 160 km/h (100 mph) in one second. Within a second and a half, the pod had reached 193 km/h (120 mph), reportedly pulling 2.5 Gs in the process.

Hyperloop's One future test track, which will consist of aluminum tubes under low air pressure. Credit: Hyperloop One
Hyperloop One prototype tube, which is currently under construction in the Nevada Desert. Credit: Hyperloop One

As Josh Giegel, Hyperloop One’s chief engineer, explained in a recent interview with Mashable, the test addressed their system’s linear electric motor-based propulsion. Their design is distinguished from other motors in that it has no moving parts, relying instead on a series of “blades” that measure roughly 60 centimeters long and 15 wide (24 by 6 inches). When powered, these blades create electromagnetic energy that reacts with the pod to propel it along.

Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd was on hand to comment. By 2020, he hopes to sees three lines in operation, with one likely running between San Fransisco and LA and another potentially in Russia. “This was a major technology milestone,” he said. “Hyperloop is faster, greener, safer, and cheaper than any other mode of transportation… We’re building this thing.”

Lloyd also took the occasion to announce new partnerships that the company is entering into – which include architecture, engineering, finance,  freight and tunneling firms – as well as the $80 million in Series B funding they have received. But perhaps the most interesting development to coincide with the test was the decision to change their name. While the reason for this was not explained, the smart money is on it being intended to clear up confusion surrounding the company’s immediate competition.

At present, there are two major companies competing to bring Musk’s vision to life. On the one hand, there is Hyperloop One (formerly Hyperloop Technologies), while the other is Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (or HTT). This little naming scheme has caused quite a bit of confusion in the past, and it is clear at this point that Hyperloop One wants to distinguish itself as being the preeminent leader in the field.

A sled speeds down a track during the test of a Hyperloop One propulsion system Wednesday in North Las Vegas, Nev. Credit: John Locher/The Associated Press)
The test car speeds down the track during the open-air test of the Hyperloop One propulsion system in the Nevada Desert. Credit: John Locher/The Associated Press

But of course, the competition is far from over. In the past few years, HTT has announced some lucrative partnerships as well, which included signing with international engineering giant Aecom and Oerlikon, the world’s oldest vacuum technology company. Earlier this year, HTT also announced an agreement with the Slovakian government to build two Hyperloops that will connect major cities in Central Europe.

One of these lines will run between Vienna, Austria and Bratislava, Slovakia, while the other will connect Bratislava to Budapest, Hungary. The project is expected to cost $200 – $300 million, and is expected to reach an annual capacity of 10 million passengers.

Last, but not least, it is important to note that Hyperloop One’s test comes not long after the Hyperloop Pod Competition, a design competition sponsored by SpaceX that saw 100 university teams compete to create a design for a Hyperloop podcar. The winning team, which hails from MIT, will be testing their final prototype podcar on the one-mile Hyperloop Test Track at SpaceX’s headquarters in California next month.

Much is happening on the Hyperloop front! Who knows where it will all lead? One thing is clear though. Since Musk released the white paper for his concept in 2013 and companies began picking it up, this project has had no shortage of enthusiasts, skeptics and detractors. With every passing milestone, partnership and test, more and more people are beginning to seriously ask, “can it be done?”

Musk Says Hyperloop Could Work On Mars… Maybe Even Better!

Elon Musk has always been up-front about his desire to see humans settle on the Red Planet. In the past few years, he has said that one of his main reasons for establishing SpaceX was to see humanity colonize Mars. He has also stated that he believes that using Mars as a “backup location” for humanity might be necessary for our survival, and even suggested we use nukes to terraform it.

And in his latest speech extolling the virtues of colonizing Mars, Musk listed another reason. The Hyperloop – his concept for a high-speed train that relies steel tubes, aluminum cars and maglev technology to go really fast – might actually work better in a Martian environment. The announcement came as part of the award ceremony for the Hyperloop Pod Competition, which saw 100 university teams compete to create a design for a Hyperloop podcar.

It was the first time that Musk has addressed the issue of transportation on Mars. In the past, he has spoken about establishing a colony with 80,000 people, and has also discussed his plans to build a Mars Colonial Transporter to transport 100 metric tons (220,462 lbs) of cargo or 100 people to the surface of Mars at a time (for a fee of $50,000 apiece). He has also discussed communications, saying that he would like to bring the internet to Mars once a colony was established.

Artist's concept of what a Hyperloop pod car might look like. Credit: Tesla
Artist’s concept of what a Hyperloop pod car’s interior might look like. Credit: Tesla

But in addressing transportation, Musk was able to incorporate another important concept that he has come up with, and which is also currently in development. Here on Earth, the Hyperloop would rely on low-pressure steel tubes and a series of aluminum pod cars to whisk passengers between major cities at speeds of up to 1280 km/h (800 mph). But on Mars, according to Musk, you wouldn’t even need tubes.

As Musk said during the course of the ceremony: “On Mars you basically just need a track. You might be able to just have a road, honestly. [It would] go pretty fast… It would obviously have to be electric because there’s no oxygen. You have to have really fast electric cars or trains or things.”

Essentially, Musk was referring to the fact that since Mars has only 1% the air pressure of Earth, air resistance would not be a factor. Whereas his high-speed train concept requires tubes with very low air pressure to reach the speed of sound here on Earth, on Mars they could reach those speeds out in the open. One might say, it actually makes more sense to build this train on Mars rather than on Earth!

The Hyperloop Pod Competition, which was hosted by SpaceX, took place between Jan 27th and 29th. The winning entry came from MIT, who’s design was selected from 100 different entries. Their pod car, which is roughly 2.5 meters long and 1 meter wide (8.2 by 3.2 feet), would weight 250 kg (551 lbs) and be able to achieve an estimated cruise speed of 110 m/s (396 km/h; 246 mph). While this is slightly less than a third of the speed called for in Musk’s original proposal, this figure representing cruising speed (not maximum speed), and is certainly a step in that direction.

Team MIT's Hyperloop pod car design. Credit: MIT/Twitter
Team MIT’s Hyperloop pod car design. Credit: MIT/Twitter

And while Musk’s original idea proposed that the pod be lifted off the ground using air bearings, the MIT team’s design called for the use of electrodynamic suspension to keep itself off the ground. The reason for this, they claimed, is because it is “massively simpler and more scalable.” In addition, compared to the other designs’ levitation systems, theirs had one of the lowest drag coefficients.

The team – which consists of 25 students with backgrounds in aeronautics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and business management – will spend the next five months building and testing their pod. The final prototype will participate in a trial run this June, where it will run on the one-mile Hyperloop Test Track at SpaceX’s headquarters in California.

Since he first unveiled it back in 2013, Musk’s Hyperloop concept has been the subject of considerable interest and skepticism. However, in the past few years, two companies – Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) and Hyperloop Technologies – have emerged with the intention of seeing the concept through to fruition. Both of these companies have secured lucrative partnerships since their inception, and are even breaking ground on their own test tracks in California and Nevada.

And with a design for a podcar now secured, and tests schedules to take place this summer, the dream of a “fifth mode of transportation” is one step closer to becoming a reality! The only question is, which will come first – Hyperloops connecting major cities here on Earth, or running passengers and freight between domed settlements on Mars?

Only time will tell! And be sure to check out Team MIT’s video:

Further Reading:

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Might Become A Reality After All

Fans of Elon Musk and high-speed transit are sure to remember the Hyperloop. Back in 2013, Musk dropped the idea into the public mind with a paper that claimed that using the right technology, a high-speed train could make the trip from San Fransisco to Los Angeles in just 35 minutes.

However, Musk also indicated that he was too busy to build such a system, but that others were free to take a crack at it. And it seems that a small startup from El Segundo, California is prepared to do just that.

That company is JumpStartFund, a startup that combines elements of crowdfunding and crowd-sourcing to make innovation happen. Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO of JumpStartFund, believes they can build Musk’s vision of a solar-powered transit system that would transport people at up to speeds of 1280 km/h (800 mph).

Together with SpaceX, JumpStartFund has created a subsidiary called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), Inc. to oversee all the necessary components to creating the system. This included bringing together 100 engineers from all over the country who work for such giants of industry as Boeing, NASA, Yahoo!, Airbus, SpaceX, and Salesforce.

Concept art of what a completed Hyperloop would look like amidst the countryside. Credit: HTT/JumpStartFund
Concept art of what a completed Hyperloop would look like amidst the countryside. Credit: HTT/JumpStartFund

Last week, these engineers came together for the first time to get the ball rolling, and what they came up with a 76-page report (entitled “Crowdstorm”) that spelled out exactly how they planned to proceed. By their own estimates, they believe they can complete the Hyperloop in just 10 years, and at a cost of $16 billion.

A price tag like that would be sure to scare most developers away. However, Ahlborn is undeterred and believes that all obstacles, financial or otherwise, can be overcome. As he professed in an interview with Wired this week: “I have almost no doubt that once we are finished, once we know how we are going to build and it makes economical sense, that we will get the funds.”

The HTT report also covered the basic design and engineering principles that would go into the building of the train, as Musk originally proposed it. Basically, this consists of pods cars that provide their own electricity through solar power, and which are accelerated through a combination of linear induction motors and low air pressure.

Much has been made of this latter aspect of the idea, and has often compared to the kinds of pneumatic tubes that used to send messages around office buildings in the mid-20th century. But of course, what is called for with the Hyperloop is bit more sophisticated.

Concept art showing different "classes" for travel. Credit: HTT
Concept art showing different “classes” for travel, which would include business class for those who can afford it. Credit: HTT/JumpStartFund

Basically, the Hyperloop will operate by providing each capsule with a soft air cushion to float on, avoiding direct contact with rails or the tube, while electromagnetic induction is used to speed up or slow the capsules down, depending on where they are in the transit system.

However, the HTT engineers indicated that such a system need not be limited to California. As it says in the report: “While it would of course be fantastic to have a Hyperloop between LA and SF as originally proposed, those aren’t the only two cities in the US and all over the world that would seriously benefit from the Hyperloop. Beyond the dramatic increase in speed and decrease in pollution, one of the key advantages the Hyperloop offers over existing designs for high-speed rail is the cost of construction and operations.”

The report also indicated the kind of price bracket they would be hoping to achieve. As it stands, HTT’s goal is “to keep the ticket price between LA and SF in the $20-$30 range,” with double that amount for return tickets. But with an overall price tag of $16 billion, the report also makes allowances for going higher: “[Our] current projected cost is closer to $16 billion,” they claim, “implying a need for a higher ticket price, unless the loop transports significantly more than 7.4 million annually, or the timeline for repayment is extended.”

In addition, the report also indicates that they are still relying heavily on Musk’s alpha document for much of their cost assessment. As a result, they can’t be specific on pricing or what kinds of revenues the Hyperloop can be expected to generate once its up and running.

The Hyperloop, as originally conceived within Musk's alpha document. Credit: Tesla Motors
The Hyperloop, as originally conceived within Musk’s alpha document. Credit: Tesla Motors

Also, there’s still plenty of logistical issues that need to be worked out, not to mention the hurdles of zoning, local politics and environmental assessments. Basically, HTT can look forward to countless challenges before they even begin to break ground. And since they are depending on crowdfunding to raise the necessary funds, it is not even certain whether or not they will be able to meet the burden of paying for it.

However, both Ahlborn and the HTT engineering team remain optimistic. Ahlborn believes the financial hurdles will be overcome, and if there was one thing that came through in the team’s report, it was the belief that something like the Hyperloop needs to happen in the near future. As the  team wrote in the opening section of “Crowdstorm”:

“It quickly becomes apparent just how dramatically the Hyperloop could change transportation, road congestion and minimize the carbon footprint globally. Even without naming any specific cities, it’s apparent that the Hyperloop would greatly increase the range of options available to those who want to continue working where they do, but don’t wish to live in the same city, or who want to live further away without an unrealistic commute time; solving some of the major housing issues some metropolitan areas are struggling with.”

Only time will tell if the Hyperloop will become the “fifth mode of transportation” (as Musk referred to it initially) or just a pipe-dream. But when it was first proposed, it was clear that what the Hyperloop really needed was someone who believed in it and enough money to get it off the ground. As of now, it has the former. One can only hope the rest works itself out with time.

Further Reading: JumpStartFund, SpaceX/Hyperloop, Crowdstorm

Weekly Space Hangout – Aug. 16, 2013

Like your space news, but you just can’t handle reading any more? Then watch our Weekly Space Hangout, where we give you a rundown of all the big space news stories that broke this week.

Host: Fraser Cain

Panel: Brian Koberlein, David Dickinson, Nancy Atkinson, Nicole Gugliucci

CIA Comes Clean About Area 51
Elon Musk’s Hyperloop
Space Fence Shut Down
Magnetar Discovered Near the Galactic Core
IAU Updates Their Naming Policy
Bright Nova in Delphinus

We record the Weekly Space Hangout every Friday at 12 pm Pacific / 3 pm Eastern as a live Google+ Hangout on Air. Join us live on YouTube, or you can listen to the audio after the fact on the 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast.

What Is Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, And Why Is It Important?

This week, SpaceX founder and billionaire Elon Musk (who also founded electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors) released his vision for a futuristic transportation system. Called hyperloop, it’s supposed to be better than flying supersonic over short distances. To give you a quick overview, we’ve summarized a portion of his paper below.

What is a hyperloop? In Musk’s words, a hyperloop is a system to “build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment.” Cars would basically be propelled in this tube. One example could be a huge sort of pneumatic tube where high-speed fans would compress and push the air — although the friction implications make Musk skeptical that it would work. Another option is having a vacuum in the tube and using electromagnetic suspension instead. Musk acknowledges it is hard to maintain a vacuum (one small leak in hundreds of miles of tubing, and the system shuts down), but there are pumping solutions to overcome this. He favors the second solution.

What is the motivation? Musk is seeking an alternative to flying or driving that would be “actually better than flying or driving.” He expressed disappointment that a proposed high-speed rail project in California is actually one of the slowest and most expensive of its type in the world, and speculated that there must be a better way.

What is the biggest technical challenge? Overcoming something called the Kantrowitz limit. Musk describes this as the “top speed law for a given tube to pod area ratio”. More simply, if you have a vehicle moving into an air-filled tube, there needs to be a minimum distance between the walls of the vehicle and the walls of the tube. Otherwise, Musk writes, “the capsule will behave like a syringe and eventually be forced to push the entire column of air in the system. Not good.”

Artist concept of a futuristic 'flying wing' airplane. Credit: DLR
In Musk’s view, his hyperloop system would be better than futuristic (perhaps supersonic) aircraft over short distances. Artist concept of one potential airplane future design incorporating a ‘flying wing’. Credit: DLR

How will Musk overcome that challenge? The principal ways of getting around it is to move slowly or quickly. A hyperfast speed would be a “dodgy prospect”, Musk writes, so his solution is to put an electric compressor fan on the capsule nose that would move high-pressure air from the front to the back of the vehicle. As a bonus, this would reduce friction. Yes, there are batteries available that would have enough power to keep the fan running for the journey’s length, he says.

How is hyperloop powered? Solar panels would be placed on top of the tube, providing enough juice to keep the vehicles moving, according to Musk’s calculations.

What about earthquakes? Musk acknowledges that a long-range system is susceptible to earthquakes. “By building a system on pylons, where the tube is not rigidly fixed at any point, you can dramatically mitigate earthquake risk and avoid the need for expansion joints,” he writes.

Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield
One of Elon Musk’s greatest achievements is overseeing the build of a spacecraft, called Dragon, which now makes periodic runs to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield

Where would hyperloop be used? In a description of the system, Musk says the hyperloop would be best served in “high-traffic city pairs that are less than about 1,500 km or 900 miles apart.” Anything more distant, and supersonic travel would be the best solution. (Short distance supersonic travel isn’t efficient because the plane would spend most of its time ascending and descending.)

Is it cost-effective? Musk estimates the tube would be “several billion dollars”, which he describes as low compared to the “tens of billion [sic] proposed for the track of the California rail project.” The individual capsules would be several hundred million dollars. Moreover, building a tube instead of a railway offers advantages, Musk says: it can be built on pylons (meaning you don’t need to buy the land), it’s less noisy, and there’s no need for fencing.

I want more information. Musk wrote a technical proposal that spans several dozens of pages, which you can check out here. He calls his system an open-source one and seems to be open to ideas to improve it.

Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments. Does this look feasible? Is there anything that could be added to make it a better system?