In 2012, Elon Musk and SpaceX published this project concept document for Hyperloop Alpha, a radical new method of intercity transportation.
The document is a 58-page proposed solution with rigorous calculations on all socio-techno-commercial aspects of the idea.
How does it work?
Hyperloop Alpha is a public transport system that sends people in pods at high speeds through a tube kept at low pressure to reduce air resistance.
By using an electric fan at the front, you can mitigate the Kantrowitz Limit (think of the maximum speed limit of a liquid pushing through a tube such as a syringe). It also has the unique benefit of creating a low-pressure air cushion for the pod to ride on – known as an air bearing.
The design envisages using linear accelerators on the bottom of each pod to achieve a target speed of 760mph (1,2220 kph or Mach 0.99 at 20°C), albeit lower at points where there is a curve in the journey so that the g-forces experienced by passengers are lower.
On the topic of renewable energy, Elon mentions that the installation could be self-powered using solar panels installed on top of the tube. He also mentions that LightSail could provide energy storage, but this shows the age of the document as in late 2017 they all but went bankrupt. Perhaps Elon could consider Highview Power’s Liquid Air Energy Storage technology now!
Future of Hyperloop
SpaceX hosted a 1-mile long test track to help incubate Hyperloop technologies around the world. Now there are several organisations developing Hyperloop solutions, including Virgin’s Hyperloop One and a team from MIT.
Inspiration for me
The Hyperloop Alpha project concept was actually one of the main inspirations for me to create and write this blog, along with a previous thought of mine about Leonardo Da Vinci.
By publishing open source project concepts like this one, Elon found a neat solution to one thing that has always bothered me about Da Vinci’s notebooks.
The ever-creative Da Vinci noted down his abundance of ideas in personal sketchbooks that were way ahead of his time. However, as he didn’t always have the time or resources to follow them up and connect them with the right people that needed them, many of them represent lost opportunities for technology to advance.
Publishing an idea in an open source format, allowing access for others that are better placed to work on it, ensures that technology moves forward in a way that benefits humanity (even though the ideator as an individual may not benefit directly).
I am not assuming that anything I put on this modest site will be anywhere near the same league as those guys, but given that good ideas can come from anywhere it is a possibility that something I put up in my Ideas section may be useful to somebody, somewhere.
The Hyperloop Alpha concept document is more detailed than any of mine, but Elon Musk does have a big team of world-class engineers to draw from as needed!