Musk himself admits that the plans for Hyperloop Alpha, released on both the SpaceX and Tesla Motors websites, is likely to contain "errors of various kinds and superior optimizations for elements of the system," but that didn't stop us from pouring over the plans the minute they were released.
Hyperloop, according to Musk, is the fastest way to travel long distances, short of the invention of teleportation. The solar-powered system would transport passenger capsules through pressurized steel tubes at speeds up to 760 miles per hour. The tubes will be elevated by reinforced concrete support pylons that run along existing highway routes, in order to reduce cost and land requirements.
"The capsules are supported via air bearings that operate using a compressed air reservoir and aerodynamic lift," explains the document. "Linear accelerators are constructed along the length of the tube at various locations to accelerate the capsules."
Hyperloop Alpha purposes a high-speed route along Interstate 5, from Los Angeles, Calif. to San Francisco, Calif. The estimated duration of a one-way trip is approximately 30 minutes at the cost of $20/passenger, plus operating costs. The capsules would depart as often as every 30 seconds, carrying up to 28 people each, according to Musk's plan.
In addition to the passenger-only capsules, Musk and his team have outlined a design for a larger system that is capable of carrying three full-size automobiles, along with their passengers.
One of the Hyperloop's biggest advantages, says Musk, is the relatively small amount of energy required to run the system per passenger. When compared with the three major forms of transportation we use today--airplane, train and car--the Hyperloop uses less than one-eighth of the energy of each, says Musk. Even the much heavier vehicle-carrying Hyperloop tubes use less than one-third of the energy of the modes of transportation we use now.
Musk was initially drawn to the idea out of disappointment in the current California high-speed rail system. Musk asks, "how could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and [NASA's jet propulsion laboratory]--doing incredible things like indexing all the world's knowledge and putting rovers on Mars--would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?"
A system of elevated tubes and capsules won't come at a bargain. The cost of the capsules alone will be in the range of $100 million and the cost to construct and install tubes is in the billions. The total estimated cost of the Hyperloop Alpha system is $6 billion. That may sound like a lot of money, but not to Musk. "Even several billion is a low number when compared with several tens of billion proposed for the track of the California rail project," says the document.
Still, Musk recognizes the system's limitations. The plans admit that the Hyperloop only makes sense for journeys that max out at around 900 miles. Beyond 900 miles, supersonic jets become not only a more economic option, but also a faster one.
TRANSLOGIC Editor Adam Morath contributed to this report.