Tesla founder and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk will see his fantastical dream of a mode of transportation that floats on air in a steel tube and travels just under the speed of sound made real on a test track that will be built on SpaceX's Hawthorne, California campus this year. As Vice's Motherboard blog is reporting, following an open competition for designs for the "pods" that would travel in the hyperloop tube, SpaceX will construct "a one- to three-mile-long hyperloop test track" with the intention of testing the technology later this year or next year.
Musk and his team drew up a white paper on his hyperloop concept back in 2013, partly in response to California's plans for a high-speed rail system that depends on technology that's already decades-old in Europe. He asserted that "The Hyperloop (or something similar) is... the right solution for the specific case of high-traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart." One of the many advantages of the plan, versus building railroad tracks, is that the thing could built on pylons above ground, eliminating the need to purchase farmland, as the high-speed rail project has already encountered problems doing.
The technology depends on a near-vacuum with about one-sixth of the air pressure on land which shoots passenger "pods," kind of like the old pneumatic tubes at banks, on cushions of air within an enclosed track up to 760 miles per hour. A hyperloop, if it were ever built, could theoretically get people between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 35 minutes.
The proposed test track will be at half scale, with the inner diameter of the tube just four or five feet. And SpaceX is holding a competition tasking teams of university students to come up with concept designs for the travel pods themselves, with a deadline of September. The winning design will be built at half-scale and tested on the California track, they say, in June of next year.
According to a statement by SpaceX, "While we are not developing a commercial Hyperloop ourselves, we are interested in helping to accelerate development of a functional Hyperloop prototype." Basically they're trying to spur design and innovation through the project and contest, and to see if the technology might actually work.
If it does, way to make the multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail look dated, slow, and lame, if and when they ever finish building it.