Nevada is rapidly becoming the new Silicon Valley. Tesla is building its gigantic Gigafactory in the desert north of Reno. Faraday Future has just announced it will invest $1 billion in a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in North Las Vegas. Now comes word that North Las Vegas will also be home to a half-mile-long test track designed to determine if Elon Musk’s Hyperloop idea is just science fiction or the basis for an all-new means of transportation of the future.
First, let’s clear up a few things. While the original idea was Musk’s, he is not directly involved in its commercial development. He is, however, promoting a competition between two companies who are trying to find out if the idea is commercially viable. One of them is called Hyperloop Technologies (HT) and the other is called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT). It’s easy to get them confused.
According to Russian Times, the Hyperloop Technologies facility will be constructed in the Mountain View Industrial Park in North Las Vegas, near Faraday Future’s factory. The company says it has raised $37,000,000 from investors and expects to obtain another $80,000,000 by selling bonds. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is constructing its own test facility north of Los Angeles.
So, what is this Hyperloop thing, anyway? Think of it like the vacuum tube system that banks use to connect customers at the drive-up window with the tellers inside. Hyperloop vehicles would travel in a partial vacuum inside a tube. Less air means less aerodynamic drag. Now add in magnetic levitation and linear electric motors and you have a system that could transport people and cargo over long distances at speeds just slightly less than the speed of sound. LA to San Francisco would take under an hour. LA to NYC would happen in under 6 hours. Sounds good, huh?
“The physics of it works,” John Hansman, aeronautics professor at MIT tells the Associated Press. “The real question is, can you get it to a point where it will be cost-competitive with other means of transportation? That’s a big unknown.” Elon Musk estimates the cost of the LA to SF link at $9 billion. That’s considerably less than the $68 billion that the proposed high-speed rail line between the two cities is projected to cost.
James E. Moore II, director of the transportation engineering program at the University of Southern California, tells Autoblog that a lot of safety, comfort, and system questions have yet to be answered. Among other things, the tube the vehicle travels through will have to maintain its partial vacuum for hundreds if not thousands of miles. In addition, magnetic levitation depends on small and very critical tolerances between the vehicle and the propulsion system. Can the system be built in such away that the tubes remain properly aligned from end to end, especially in a state that features the San Andreas Fault?
Oh, one more thing. There will be no sightseeing along the way. The tubes will have no windows and the Hyperloop vehicles will have no central aisle. It will be as narrow as possible to keep aerodynamic drag to a minimum. It will be like riding in a horizontal elevator. That means no food or drink during the trip. No bathroom breaks either. The more you know about the Hyperloop, the less it seems like something that will replace air travel any time soon.