The tech-minded billionaire Elon Musk announced on Monday, June 15, 2015, that his spacecraft-manufacturing company SpaceX (short for Space Exploration Technologies Corp.) is going to hold a year-long design competition for Hyperloop pods that will culminate in a testing face-off in July, 2016.
To this end, the company will build a 1-mile test track near its headquarters in Hawthorne, Los Angeles. Sign-up deadline is September 15, 2015.
The Hyperloop high-speed transit system was suggested by Musk two years ago and concerns the idea of zooming specialized passenger capsules through pressurised above-ground tubes between Los Angeles and San Francisco at roughly the speed of sound.
Last year, Musk had published a 56-page open-source “alpha” paper detailing the concept for those interested.
Hyperloop is based on already-proven technologies and is therefore technically, or at least theoretically, possible.
For now, little is known about the parameters of the contest, apart from the few details and a rough timeline given in the announcement paperwork, which can be accessed by clicking on this link.
Musk said he‘s not interested in building the Hyperloop himself but will do what he can to help the technology along.
“Neither SpaceX nor Elon Musk is affiliated with any Hyperloop companies. While we are not developing a commercial Hyperloop ourselves, we are interested in helping to accelerate development of a functional Hyperloop prototype,” the paper makes clear.
The competition aims to attract independent and university engineering teams who will design and test half-scale models of the pods.
Next January, entrants will meet for a design weekend at Texas A&M University where they will present their designs to a panel that will consist mostly of engineers from SpaceX and Tesla Motors. The weekend will also present an opportunity for private companies to choose which teams to sponsor.
Technical difficulties aside, many analysts think the biggest obstacle to overcome if we‘re ever to see an actually-functioning Hyperloop will be the costs involved in building it – while Musk‘s estimates it at roughly $6 billion, many think it‘s far too low.
“I just don’t see how it can compete economically with the airlines and the high-speed rail, or the automobile at the other end of the spectrum,” said Lou Thompson, a transportation consultant. “In this sense, the technology is a very small part of the question. The real question is the cost to construct and operate.”
Online forms for those intending to compete are available at: www.Spacex.com/hyperloop.
More information is scheduled for release in August of this year.