Hyperloop speculation – launch assist for electric aircraft

Elon Musk is planning to announce the details of his Hyperloop transport system this month. Most people are assuming that it will be a pair of tubes running 350 miles from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The tubes will have some sort of novel system to reduce air resistance. It is assumed that 700 miles of tube plus a fleet of vehicles can be constructed for a total cost of $6 billion which is one tenth of the estimated cost for high speed rail. I don’t think you could acquire the land and right-of-way to build this system for $6 billion. This budget would not pay for enough tunnels or bridges to provide a smooth journey over the hills between the two cities.

Permitting and land access will be big problems for a ground based system. Electric aviation is going to be more viable than a system requiring a right-of-way between LA and San Francisco. If hyperloop is a 600 mph ground based tube, passengers may experience uncomfortable g-forces due to the hilly terrain.

I predict that Hyperloop will be a pair of launch tubes that accelerate electric aircraft up to 600 mph using electromagnetic propulsion. The aircraft would exit the launch tube and fly with battery power to the destination. The aircraft would make a powered vertical landing with electric ducted fans. Passengers would be transferred and the aircraft would swap batteries prior to entering the launch tube for the return journey. Energy storage would be in swappable lithium batteries. Solar power at each launch tube could be used to recharge batteries and store power for night operation.

Elon has mentioned that electric aircraft can fly at higher altitudes than conventional aircraft (e.g. 70,000 feet) which makes them immune to weather. Also, the aircraft could incorporate safety measures like parachutes so they could not crash.

Two launch tubes plus a fleet of electric aircraft could be built for $6 billion. This would utilize the engineering skills at Tesla Motors and fulfill Elon’s stated goal of building an electric aircraft.

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