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How the Hyperloop Works


A Solution, Elon Musk Style
You're looking at a Hyperloop capsule in tube cutaway with attached solar arrays.
You're looking at a Hyperloop capsule in tube cutaway with attached solar arrays.
Image courtesy Elon Musk

The list of problems seems overwhelming. But Musk, ever the resourceful innovator, has enlisted a team of engineers from Tesla and SpaceX to help him find a solution. They propose elevating two tubes (one going north, the other south) alongside Interstate 5 and reducing the air pressure inside.

The theory is simple: Jet aircraft fly at high altitudes through air that is less dense and drag is reduced. The Musk team decided the air pressure inside the system should be one-sixth the pressure of the thin atmosphere on Mars, which significantly reduces drag on the speeding pods. In addition, situating the Hyperloop in the median of I-5 for the most part is a cost-cutting decision because it allows the developer to avoid buying land from those living along the route [sources: Belfiore, SpaceX, Lavrinc].

They also made the pod the heart of the system, aiming to keep the tube as low-tech as possible. The plan is to design a pod with metal skis that ride, or levitate, on a cushion of air pumped through small holes in the skis. The concept is similar to an air hockey game, except the air is generated by the high-speed passage of the pod through the tube, and a super-powerful electric compressor on the front of the pod that pumps air to the back. (Not familiar with electric compressors? Often, you can find them employed on construction sites on a variety of tasks, especially where air tools are used.) Magnets on the skis, coupled with an electromagnetic pulse, give the pod its initial shove. That shove, Musk told reporters, would be similar to what a passenger experiences onboard an airplane at takeoff. "Then once you're there," Musk says, "there's no sense of speed" [sources: Belfiore, SpaceX, Lavrinc].

Linear induction motors, which get their juice from magnets and conductors, would be placed at various points along the tube and keep the pod moving fast and steady with little chance of accident. Speaking of which, emergency exits would be built along the tube. The Hyperloop would get its power from motors and batteries developed for the Tesla Model S electric car, along with solar panels placed on the roof of the tubes [sources: Belfiore, SpaceX, Becker, Lavrinc].