If you’ve ever wanted to be a part of building our grand, sci-fi preordained future, now’s your chance. SpaceX has announced it is building a hyperloop, the up until now theoretical transportation tube capable of shuttling people and cargo close to the speed of sound. The design and concept originated from the beautiful mind of Elon Musk, the South African entrepreneur and investor who has a casual three day jobs in addition to his wildly imaginative musings: CEO of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla and chairman of SolarCity.
But before you get too ahead of yourself and start booking your pod to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes flat, here’s the rub: SpaceX is currently only working on a model hyperloop, not a commercial one. The company is constructing a one to three mile hyperloop test track just outside of Hawthorne, California, where SpaceX is headquartered, to test the technology behind this “fifth mode of transportation” as Musk dubbed it.
Here’s the cool part: SpaceX is launching a contest to spur innovation and streamline the design of the product. Also they want to prove that this tube travel stuff could actually work. The contest won’t kick-off until August, but the idea is to encourage teams of university students to submit their designs for the passenger pods that would house our precious human flesh as we’re catapulted through a tube at 760 miles per hour. Hopefully, besides just being aesthetically pleasing, they’ll be functional too. The best designs chosen will be built to half scale and tested next summer at SpaceX’s hyperloop test track, without human passengers inside.
Two other companies, Hyperloop Technologies and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, are in fact working on hyperloops to be used for commercial applications. These hyperloops would consist of steel, partially pressurized tubes where pods could travel through them at unmatched speeds by attaching motors on them that would create a cushion of air, allowing the pods to float inside the tube and be pushed through it by linear induction motors lining the tube’s interior. Naturally, the tubes will be powered by solar panels, because it’s the future and whatnot.
Musk claims that the hyperloop would be a faster and cheaper mode of transportation for cities up to 900 miles apart, but those goals might be too grounded for SpaceX, which might explain why they’re not jumping to create a commercial version. Rather, they’re still a little busy working on sending humans to Mars. But tube travel is still cool too!