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  • Amruta Bhaskar
  • Jan 30, 2020
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A Hyperloop is a proposed mode of passenger and freight transportation, first used to describe an open-source vactrain design released by a joint team from Tesla and SpaceX. Hyperloop is a sealed tube or system of tubes through which a pod may travel free of air resistance or friction conveying people or objects at high speed while being very efficient, thereby drastically reducing travel times over medium-range distances. 

Elon Musk's version of the concept, first publicly mentioned in 2012, incorporates reduced-pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on air bearings driven by linear induction motors and axial compressors.

The Hyperloop Alpha concept was first published in August 2013, proposing and examining a route running from the Los Angeles region to the San Francisco Bay Area, roughly following the Interstate 5 corridor. The Hyperloop Genesis paper conceived of a hyperloop system that would propel passengers along the 350-mile (560 km) route at a speed of 760 mph (1,200 km/h), allowing for a travel time of 35 minutes, which is considerably faster than current rail or air travel times. Preliminary cost estimates for this LA–SF suggested route was included in the white paper—US$6 billion for a passenger-only version, and US$7.5 billion for a somewhat larger-diameter version transporting passengers and vehicles—although transportation analysts had doubts that the system could be constructed on that budget. Some analysts claimed that the Hyperloop would be several billion dollars over budget, taking into consideration construction, development, and operation costs.

Fig: Concept art of hyperloop inner workings

Initial design concept

The Hyperloop concept operates by sending specially designed "capsules" or "pods" through a steel tube maintained at a partial vacuum. In Musk's original concept, each capsule floats on a 0.02–0.05 in (0.5–1.3 mm) layer of air provided under pressure to air-caster "skis", similar to how pucks are levitated above an air hockey table, while still allowing faster speeds than wheels can sustain. Hyperloop One's technology uses Passive Maglev for the same purpose. Linear induction motors located along the tube would accelerate and decelerate the capsule to the appropriate speed for each section of the tube route. With rolling resistance eliminated and air resistance greatly reduced, the capsules can glide for the bulk of the journey.

In Musk's original Hyperloop concept, an electrically driven inlet fan and axial compressor would be placed at the nose of the capsule to "actively transfer high-pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel", resolving the problem of air pressure building in front of the vehicle, slowing it down. A fraction of the air is shunted to the skis for additional pressure, augmenting that gain passively from lift due to their shape. Hyperloop One's system does away with the compressor.

In the alpha-level concept, passenger-only pods are to be 7 ft. 4 in (2.23 m) in diameter and projected to reach a top speed of 760 mph (1,220 km/h) to maintain aerodynamic efficiency. The design proposes passengers experience a maximum inertial acceleration of 0.5 g, about 2 or 3 times that of a commercial airliner on takeoff and landing.


California just decided to sharply scale back its plans for a high-speed rail artery meant to transform travel up and down the state. But in the desert outside Las Vegas, the transportation ambitions still seem limitless.

Here, engineers working for Virgin Hyperloop One are testing a radically different type of mass transit: one that aims to move people and cargo in small wheel-less pods in a vacuum tube at speeds that could exceed 600 miles per hour. Today’s swiftest rail travel, at top speeds less than half as fast, would become a quaint anachronism.

The company, which counts Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group as a minority investor, is one of several in the United States, Canada and other countries developing hyperloop technology. The concept was promoted by Elon Musk, of electric-car and private-rocket renown, and then offered by one of his companies as open-source technology available to all. It works by propelling pods using magnetic levitation through a low-pressure, near-vacuum tube. The low pressure minimizes friction and air resistance, greatly reducing the power needed. And because the pods travel in a tube, they’re not subject to shutdowns due to harsh weather, like snow or polar vortexes. We’ve seen this concept before. Libraries used to send book requests to the stacks in pneumatic tubes. Until 1984, a similar network whisked messages around Paris. And a series of underground tubes once dispatched mail between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The concept was even tried with people for three years in New York’s subway. Beginning in 1870, Beach Pneumatic Transit, named for its developer, ran a passenger capsule moved by pneumatic power under Broadway in Manhattan, from Warren Street to Murray Street.

Virgin Hyperloop One, based in Los Angeles, began testing here in 2017 and is now doing so with a full-scale test track; its main competitors, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, also in Los Angeles, and TransPod, with headquarters in Toronto, expect to build their own test tracks this year. So far both are working with computer simulations.

In the barren desert 35 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip, Virgin’s 1,640-foot-long, the 11-feet-high tube has been used for hundreds of runs, with an empty pod that in one test accelerated to 240 m.p.h.

 Fig: The tube used for unmanned testing by Virgin Hyperloop one north of Las Vegas. The system aims to move people and cargo through tubes in wheel-less pods.


To avoid making anyone sick, the system would take three minutes to accelerate to that speed, and the train would need to travel six miles to turn 90 degrees, said Ismaeel Babur, one of the company’s senior civil engineers.

Because of its slow takeoff rate, “you’ll feel 30 to 40 percent of the acceleration compared to an airplane,” Mr Babur said. The trip will be so smooth, he added, that “coffee won’t slide even at 600 miles per hour.”

Each of the three companies has raised tens to hundreds of millions of dollars and developed its own patented approach to long-distance mass transit. TransPod, with $52 million in capital, has preliminary agreements to build a six-mile test track for a route that would eventually span the 180 miles between Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta, as well as a shorter track near Limoges, France, for one of several French routes under consideration.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which has raised $42 million, is in the design phase for a 1,100-yard test track in Abu Dhabi and is preparing to build a 350-yard test track in Toulouse, France.

Virgin, which has raised $295 million, is in the developmental stage with projects in India and Ohio. Last month, the Indian state of Maharashtra declared the company’s proposed hyperloop system between Pune and Mumbai as an official infrastructure project. Construction on a seven-mile test track could start this year, said Jay Walder, the company’s chief executive.

Passenger operations could begin by the middle of the next decade, cutting travel time between the cities to 30 minutes, one-fifth the current duration.


SpaceX is revolutionizing terrestrial transportation through its Hyperloop services. The company currently provides these services to innovators and universities across the world interested in high-speed transportation technology and solutions. The Hyperloop system built by SpaceX at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California is approximately one mile in length with a six-foot outer diameter.



SpaceX announced the Hyperloop Pod Competition in 2015. The competition’s goal is to support the development of functional prototypes and encourage innovation by challenging student teams to design and build the best high-speed pod. The first three competitions were held in January 2017, August 2017, and July 2018 and were the first of their kind anywhere in the world.

Based on these successes, SpaceX moved forward with the fourth installment: the 2019 Hyperloop Pod Competition. As with previous competitions, the competition was judged solely on one criterion: maximum speed with successful deceleration (i.e. without crashing). All pods were self-propelled. The key updates to the rules for the 2019 competition were the following:

1.  Teams used their own communications system. SpaceX did not provide an on-pod communications system, otherwise known as the Network Access Panel (NAP).

2.   Pods were designed and tested to propel themselves within 100 feet of the far end of the tube before stopping. This could take the form of a single main run to that point or a “slow crawl” after the pod’s main run was completed.

Winner of 2K19 competition:


TUM Hyperloop has set a new speed record of 463 km/h (288 mph) at the fourth SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. (2019)