Technology & Science

Elon Musk speaks about Hyperloop, Mars mission

Elon Musk announced Thursday afternoon that he'd received verbal approval for a Hyperloop from New York City to Washington, D.C. A day earlier, Musk revealed that he hasn't given up on his Mars dreams but that his Falcon Heavy and Crew Dragon plans have met some unforeseen obstacles.

'Verbal agreement' on Hyperloop but a few glitches in SpaceX programs

The Falcon 9 rocket laying on its side, in a hangar, after its second flight into orbit. The Falcon 9 is the first spacecraft since the Space Shuttle to survive orbital re-flight. (SpaceX)

While Elon Musk's dream of going to Mars is still a bit of a moonshot, his goal of building a high-speed Hyperloop transportation system in the U.S. is one step closer to fruition.

The founder of electric vehicle company Tesla and aerospace manufacturer SpaceX announced through a series of tweets Thursday that his tunneling company, the Boring Company, had received verbal government approval to build an underground Hyperloop linking New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Such a construction would cover a distance of approximately 360 kilometres. 

In a later tweet, Musk clarified that he has yet to receive any formal government approval, but that he is optimistic.

The Hyperloop would incorporate a series of pods travelling in an atmosphere close to an absolute vacuum.

The pods would theoretically be able to travel the distance from New York to D.C — a trip that normally takes several hours to complete — in fewer than 30 minutes.

Nothing loopy about travel to Mars

Musk spoke at length about his company's attempts to work its way to the Red Planet — and its attempts at building better reusable rockets — at the annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSR&D) in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

He downplayed expectations of the Falcon Heavy rocket — the launch vehicle that will send crews and payloads to the Moon and then to Mars. 

Musk explained that the development of the Falcon rocket is "way, way more difficult" than the engineers at SpaceX previously anticipated.

The Falcon Heavy, also known as the Falcon 9 Heavy, is a reusable rocket that consists of a large Falcon 9 — a reusable spacecraft designed and manufactured by SpaceX — as the primary core, with two additional Falcon 9 rockets as strap-on boosters.

An artist's rending of the Falcon 9 Heavy, the Kennedy Space Centre Launch Complex's Pad 39A. (SpaceX)

However, the Falcon Heavy has experienced numerous launch delays, mostly due to concerns about safety and launchpad damage.

"There's a real good chance that it does not make it to orbit," said Musk, in reference to the Falcon Heavy's test flight. "I hope it gets far enough away from the launch pad that it does not cause pad damage — I would consider that a win."

The Falcon Heavy's inaugural flight is expected to take place later this year.

Propulsive landing and the Dragon 2

Musk also spoke about his company's revised plans for the Dragon 2 spacecraft — the vehicle that SpaceX plans to use to send human cargo to space and, eventually, to Mars.

The Dragon 2 was originally planned to use a series of rocket engines to slow the spacecraft's descent in order to gently land on four landing legs.

Musk, however, revealed that the Dragon 2 will no longer use rockets as its primary landing manoeuvre.

Crew Dragon, America’s next generation crewed spacecraft is almost ready for a test flight. Pad abort vehicle shipping to FL shortly. (SpaceX)

Musk did not clarify what new approach his company plans on implementing to safely land the roughly 6,400 kilogram vehicle — and its human crew and non-human cargo — on the surface of Mars.

In a later tweet, Musk clarified that SpaceX has not completely abandoned research into landing a spacecraft on Mars using propulsive landing.

"Plan is to do powered landings on Mars for sure, but with a vastly bigger ship," said Musk, in a July 19, 2017 tweet.

Propulsive landing has not been abandoned on the Dragon 2 either. The spacecraft will incorporate propulsive landing as a backup, in the event that the unannounced primary landing mechanisms fail. 

ISSR&D is an annual industry conference hosted by the Center for Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

About the Author

Sameer Chhabra

Web Writer

Sameer Chhabra is a web writer with CBC Windsor. He's previously worked with CBC's Spark, Day 6 and Cross Country Checkup radio shows, as well as with CBC Toronto local radio.