The Hyperloop is going to change the way we long distance travel forever

The Hyperloop is a conceptual transportation device which incorporates reduced-pressure tubes in which capsules ride on cushions of air driven by linear induction motors and air compressors. When SpaceX announced the idea back in 2013, they left the idea as an open-sourced project. This meant that anyone could use the idea, build on it, change it and eventually use it for commercial purposes.  SpaceX and Elon Musk have specified that they are not developing a commercial Hyperloop system, however, are very interested in helping potential private companies develop their concepts.

In a paper released by SpaceX, they proposed a system for the Hyperloop. The 58-page document outlines the locations of the transport base stations, materials used to construct the facilities and the design and technical features of the capsules themselves. The detailed proposal also summaries the current issues, like pollution and costs of active transportation systems.

Hyperloop concept art showing capsule and design of vehicle. (SpaceX)

Hyperloop concept art showing capsule and design of vehicle. (SpaceX)

How does the proposed system work?

The concept system has 4 distinct parts, the capsule, tube, propulsion, and route. Each one specifically designed to work in harmony to reduce costs, efficiency and carbon footprint. The system proposes a travel route between Los Angeles, California and San Francisco, California in a travel time of 35 minutes.

Capsule design concept taken from SpaceX.

Capsule design concept taken from SpaceX.

The capsule is designed to carry 28 passengers, departing from base stations every 2 minutes. The Capsules are separated within the tube by approximately 23 miles on average. The tube is made of steel and two tubes will be linked in a side-by-side configuration to allow two capsules to travel in both directions. The tubes will be covered by solar panels to provide power to the system, keeping the operating costs to a minimal. The capsules are accelerated using linear accelerators which are placed along the length of the tube at various localities to provided constant movement.

There are several problems that need to be overcome in order for the Hyperloop system to work properly. The first major problem is the Kantrowitz Limit. This limit is the distance between the capsule and the tube its travelling in at a given speed before it forces the capsule to move all the air in the tube to front.

Streamlines for capsules travelling at high-speed inside the Hyperloop. (SpaceX)

Streamlines for capsules travelling at high-speed inside the Hyperloop. (SpaceX)

To overcome the Kantrowitz Limit, the capsule uses a compressor located at the front. This allows the air in front of the capsule to be compressed and transfered through the capsule via a narrow tube near the bottom of the capsule. This stops air from building up in front of the capsule during high-speed travel.

What is next?

MIT prototype Hyperloop capsule. (MIT)

MIT prototype Hyperloop capsule. (MIT)

Since the concept was released, many private companies have developed prototype models. To help make the idea of subsonic travel a reality, SpaceX organised an open competition aimed at university students to design, build and test the best Hyperloop pod.  SpaceX is making a 1-mile test track to test the winning designs and is currently targeted for the Summer 2016. Students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), along with 30 other competing teams, won the competition with their innovative pod design.

They now hope to produce a working prototype to run on the 1-mile track being made by SpaceX. There is one private company hoping to break into the Hyperloop game with their own Hyperloop system. Hyperloop-one is already testing their propulsion systems in Nevada, proving the potential is there and worth the investment.


The benefits of the Hyperloop are going to be profound. With the ability to do inter-city travel in a fraction of the time, having virtually no carbon output, and the convenience of travelling without the hassle that comes with air travel; this new 5th mode of transport has the potential to change the way we move.

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Saad Bhatty

Blogger, journalist, geologist and Tech-enthusiast. There is always something to write about!

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1 Response

  1. May 28, 2016

    […] recently covered the Hyperloop and its potential to profoundly change the way we commute to destinations. Things, […]

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