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Everything you ever wanted to know about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop super train

hyperloop
Image Credit: Tesla

Inventor, philanthropist, billionaire, and titan of industry Elon Musk unveiled a 57-page plan yesterday for a super-speed train that would take passengers between LA and San Francisco in just 30 minutes.

We previewed it, and we covered it.

But there’s a lot more to know about the Hyperloop — a high-speed train-in-a-tube that makes all other high-speed trains look like they’re stuck in first gear — including the current fastest train in the world in regular operation, the 268 mph Shanghai maglev train, which I’ve personally ridden.

You could all read those 57 pages — or scan these Cole’s Notes.

The basic Hyperloop concept in a nutshell:

  • People-carrying capsules running through a long metal tube
  • 28-person capacity
  • 40 total capsules in activity at rush hour
  • Almost a cross between the pneumatic tube delivery systems in old buildings and a Japanese bullet train
  • Capsules float on cushions of air like hockey pucks
  • Tube is elevated on 25,000 concrete pylons

The Hyperloop’s speed and initial routes:

  • Up to 760 miles per hour, or Mach .91 at the tube’s air pressure
  • Slowing to 300 mph for turns
  • Compares to most airplanes’ speed of 550 mph
  • At Hyperloop speeds, travel time from L.A. to San Francisco is 30 minutes
  • Additional cities to be added later: San Diego, Sacramento, and Fresno

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 8.32.07 AMCosts:

  • Passenger capsules: $1.3 million each
  • Car and cargo capsules: $1.5 million each
  • Stations: $125 million each
  • Tube, pillars, and stations: $4 billion, or $5.31 billion for a larger tube with higher capacity
  • Total cost: $6.1 billion
  • Comparison: the proposed California High Speed Rail project is estimated at $68.4 billion

Air, pressure, and pumping:

  • Atmospheric pressure inside the tube: 17 percent of the pressure of Mars, which is already only 1 percent of Earth at sea level
  • Equivalent to the air pressure on earth at 150,000 feet, four times higher than most airplanes fly
  • There’s still too much pressure against the capsules, so each capsule pumps air from the front to the back via a compressor — and uses some of it to float on like a hockey puck

Power:

  • All power is provided by solar panels on the top of the 381-mile-long tube
  • Energy cost per passenger: less than 100 megajoules (about 3/4 of a gallon of gas)
  • Energy cost per car in cargo capsules: about 220 megajoules
  • Per-passenger comparisons: car (800 MJ), motorcycle (900MJ), airplane (1100 MJ)

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 8.30.22 AMTicket prices and round-trip travel times:

  • Hyperloop: $40 round-trip
    1 hour 10 minutes total travel time
  • Airplane: $158 round-trip
    2 hours 30 minutes total travel time
  • Car: $115 round-trip (gas only)
    11 hours total travel time
  • Proposed California High Speed Rail: $210 round-trip
    5 hours total travel time

Screen Shot 2013-08-13 at 8.30.05 AMSafety and reliability

  • Capsules always connected via radio with station operators
  • Redundant power supplies on-board
  • Backup mechanical braking mechanism in case electrical motors fail
  • Oxygen masks for passengers deploy in case of depressurization
  • Tube can be rapidly re-pressurized if needed
  • Tube built with flexibility to withstand earthquakes

Motors

  • Motors are in the tubes, not the capsules
  • Hyperloop uses linear induction electric motors, similar to those in the Tesla
  • The linear induction motor works via electromagnetism
  • Motors are only required for about one percent of the tube: initial speed-up and quick top-ups every 70 miles
  • Most of the time, capsules simply coast