All posts in “hyperloop”

Dreaming of Mars, the startup Relativity Space gets its first launch site on Earth

3D-printing the first rocket on Mars.

That’s the goal Tim Ellis and Jordan Noone set for themselves when they founded Los Angeles-based Relativity Space in 2015.

At the time they were working from a WeWork in Seattle, during the darkest winter in Seattle history, where Ellis was wrapping up a stint at Blue Origin . The two had met in college at USC in their jet propulsion lab. Noone had gone on to take a job at SpaceX and Ellis at Blue Origin, but the two remained in touch and had an idea for building rockets quickly and cheaply — with the vision that they wanted to eventually build these rockets on Mars.

Now, more than $35 million dollars later, the company has been awarded a multi-year contract to build and operate its own rocket launch facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

That contract, awarded by The 45th Space Wing of the Air Force, is the first direct agreement the U.S. Air Force has completed with a venture-backed orbital launch company that wasn’t also being subsidized by billionaire owner-operators.

By comparison, Relativity’s neighbors at Cape Canaveral are Blue Origin (which Jeff Bezos has been financing by reportedly selling $1 billion in shares of Amazon stock since 2017); SpaceX (which has raised roughly $2.5 billion since its founding and initial capitalization by Elon Musk); and United Launch Alliance, the joint venture between the defense contracting giants Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense.

Like the other launch sites at Cape Canaveral, Launch Complex 16, where Relativity expects to be launching its first rockets by 2020, has a storied history in the U.S. space and missile defense program. It was used for Titan missile launches, the Apollo and Gemini programs and Pershing missile launches.

From the site, Relativity will be able to launch its first designed rocket, the Terran 1, which is the only fully 3D-printed rocket in the world.

That rocket can carry a maximum payload of 1,250 kilograms to a low earth orbit of 185 kilometers above the Earth. Its nominal payload is 900 kilograms of a Sun-synchronous orbit 500 kilometers out, and it has a 700 kilogram high-altitude payload capacity to 1,200 kilometers in Sun-synchronous orbit. Relativity prices its dedicated missions at $10 million, and $11,000 per kilogram to achieve Sun-synchronous orbit.

If the company’s two founders are right, then all of this launch work Relativity is doing is just a prelude to what the company considers to be its real mission — the advancement of manufacturing rockets quickly and at scale as a test run for building out manufacturing capacity on Mars.

“Rockets are the business model now,” Ellis told me last year at the company’s offices at the time, a few hundred feet from SpaceX. “That’s why we created the printing tech. Rockets are the largest, lightest-weight, highest-cost item that you can make.”

It’s also a way for the company to prove out its technology. “It benefits the long-term mission,” Ellis continued. “Our vision is to create the intelligent automated factory on Mars… We want to help them to iterate and scale the society there.”

Ellis and Noone make some pretty remarkable claims about the proprietary 3D printer they’ve built and housed in their Inglewood offices. Called “Stargate,” the printer is the largest of its kind in the world and aims to go from raw materials to a flight-ready vehicle in just 60 days. The company claims that the speed with which it can manufacture new rockets should pare down launch timelines by somewhere between two and four years.

Another factor accelerating Relativity’s race to market is a long-term contract the company signed last year with NASA for access to testing facilities at the agency’s Stennis Space Center on the Mississippi-Louisiana border. It’s there, deep in the Mississippi delta swampland, that Relativity plans to develop and quality control as many as 36 complete rockets per year on its 25-acre space.

All of this activity helps the company in another segment of its business: licensing and selling the manufacturing technology it has developed.

“The 3D factory and automation is the other product, but really that’s a change in emphasis,” says Ellis. “It’s always been the case that we’re developing our own metal 3D printing technology. Not only can we make rockets. If the long-term mission is 3D printing on Mars, we should think of the factory as its own product tool.”

Not everyone agrees. At least one investor I talked to said that in many cases, the cost of 3D printing certain basic parts outweighs the benefits that printing provides.

Still, Relativity is undaunted.

But first, the company — and its competitors at Blue Origin, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and the hundreds of other companies working on launching rockets into space again — need to get there. For Relativity, the Canaveral deal is one giant step for the company, and one great leap toward its ultimate goal.

“This is a giant step toward being a launch company,” says Ellis. “And it’s aligned with the long-term vision of one day printing on Mars.”

Elon Musk’s high-speed hyperloop tunnel in L.A. will soon be open for public rides

The Boring Company's test tunnel for the ultra-high-speed hyperloop under Hawthorne, California is "almost done."
The Boring Company’s test tunnel for the ultra-high-speed hyperloop under Hawthorne, California is “almost done.”

Image: the boring company

Elon Musk says the first tunnel is “almost done.” 

Posting on Twitter on Sunday night, the Boring Company founder and CEO announced the first test tunnel of the ambitious ultra-high-speed hyperloop project in Los Angeles will be open for public rides on Dec. 11.

The very first LA tunnel, which will primarily function to transport pedestrians and cyclists, was officially completed in May, after digging permission was granted in August last year. 

Musk has previously announced that the service will apparently cost passengers just $1 to ride on shuttles within the city when it officially launches.

On Sunday, the CEO tweeted that the test tunnel’s opening night event will happen on Dec. 10 with free rides for the public the following day. leaving from near SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

Where does the tunnel run? According to the Boring Company’s website, it runs from SpaceX’s parking lot east of Crenshaw Boulevard and south of 120th Street, then it turns west under 120th Street, and remains underground along 120th Street for 2 miles.

The top speed in the tunnel, according to the CEO, will be 155 mph (250 km/h).

Musk is somewhat famed for missing deadlines. But guys, Dec. 10 is apparently the actual, real life, not-to-be-delayed date it’ll launch.

Elsewhere, Musk also got permission from Maryland officials for his Boring Company to build a 10-mile tunnel in the state last year. It will mark the first part of Musk’s envisioned hyperloop to transport people underground between New York and Washington, D.C. in just 29 minutes.

In June, Musk also won a bid to build a high-speed train from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to downtown. The new rail line, or Chicago Express Loop, will see 12-minute trips in electric vehicles called “skates,” from the airport’s new terminals to the Block 37 super-station downtown. 

Now, who’s keen to line up for a free ride? Three words: get there early.

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SpaceX hyperloop competition reaches record-breaking speeds

Hyperloop technology just broke another record.

SpaceX hosted its third Hyperloop Pod Competition on Sunday, and the fastest looping team broke the 240 mph world record set by Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One last year.

The winning team — a group of students from the Technical University of Munich — got its pod to travel at 284 mph.

“We’re excited to announce that our team WARR Hyperloop is the winner of the 2018 SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition!!!!!” the team wrote on its website after the competition. “We’d like to sincerely thank all our sponsors! This journey wouldn’t have been possible without you!”

The team said its pod travelled almost 50 percent faster than last year, and its model went more than three times faster than the second place team this year.

Elon Musk, the hyperloop tsar himself, even reportedly attended the competition held at SpaceX’s 0.8-mile test track in Hawthorne, Calif. (a Los Angeles suburb) with his five children and Canadian musician Grimes, his current girlfriend.

Although his presence was not expected, it’s not surprising that he would attend.

This all fits his self-proclaimed useful narcissism brand very well, since the competition (which stems from his 2013 white paper on this new form of transportation) celebrates Musk while still working to help decrease long distance travel times.

His goal was to make the travel time between San Francisco and Los Angeles a measly 30 minutes — it currently takes about 90 minutes by plane, and this new hyperloop record would make the commute just over 80 minutes.

The hyperloop pods must travel at more than 750 mph to achieve Musk’s half hour California dream, which as of right now probably remains many pod generations away. So while we’re about 480 mph off, students are leading with speed to reach that goal.

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Elon Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hold ‘Loop’ press conference to shut down the haters

Bye haters - Elon Musk and Rahm Emanuel are a match made in transportation heaven.
Bye haters – Elon Musk and Rahm Emanuel are a match made in transportation heaven.

Image: Mark Brake/Getty Images

Haters gonna hate, but that’s not stopping Elon Musk and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel from pushing forward on a potentially game-changing new high-speed rail project.

Musk and Mayor Emanuel held a press conference on Thursday to announce The Boring Company’s winning bid for an underground high-speed rail between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport.

“This is the fastlane to Chicago’s future,” Mayor Emanuel said.

The line will be called “The Chicago Express Loop,” also known as The X. Pods made by Tesla will travel between 125 – 150 mph, transporting travelers the approximately 16 miles between Block 37 in downtown Chicago to the airport in about 12 minutes. It’s not Hyperloop, but it’s fast — about four times faster than existing public transportation, at least.

The city and the Boring Company actually announced the partnership early Thursday morning. The role of the press conference, it seemed, was to communicate — and sell — Mayor Emanuel and Elon Musk’s dual vision for the future.

“If you want to have for your city a 21st century economy, you must have a 21st century transportation foundation,” Mayor Emanuel said. 

“We think that with the loop system, which will ultimately transition to the hyperloop system, there’s the potential here for a revolutionary transport system,” Musk said.

The press conference largely centered around how the project will impact Chicago. But Musk and Mayor Emanuel also took pains to address the “doubters” in the room. They both put forth the sentiment that revolutionary projects — which is the way that they see the Loop — always prompt naysayers. But that history tends to prove them wrong.

“It’s easy to be a critic or a cynic,” Mayor Emanuel said. “There are doubters along the way all the time who sit on the sidelines. And then when the thing gets built, and the economic growth comes, they’re nowhere to be found.”

Musk, who has had an embattled relationship with his critics in the press as of late, said “There is a role for doubters. People should question things.”

But he aimed to reassure those “doubters” with his track record of successful innovations with SpaceX and Tesla (which Mayor Emanuel also touted as he expressed his faith in Musk and the project).

“I’ve done a few things in my past that were pretty tricky,” Musk said.

That’s one thing you can say for Elon Musk: he’s definitely not afraid of a challenge.

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Twitter is trolling Elon Musk for thinking he invented the subway

Musk, supes casual, describing his invention.
Musk, supes casual, describing his invention.

Image: The Boring company

Ahh, tech industry hubris. It never ceases to inspire.

On Thursday, Elon Musk held an information session to discuss the progress of his Boring Company, and share his vision for the future of transportation in Los Angeles. What that amounts to is … wait for it …. a series of tunnels! That pedestrians can access through a magnitude of street-level stations, no larger than — hang on — a parking spot!

Sound familiar? The good citizens of Twitter thought so.

Musk’s proposed solution to Los Angeles traffic is basically a high-speed subway system. He recently completed 2.7 miles of track for a proof of concept. And on Thursday, he got approval from the city of Los Angeles to run tests. If expanded, Musk said that his transportation tunnels would use individual cars that travel at 150 mph, and provide rides at just $1 a pop. 

Those high speeds and low costs would certainly be an improvement on the current state of mass transit in the US, and in Los Angeles. But the underlying concept is not exactly revelatory. 

The wonder with which Musk announced these visionary plans is what really got Twitter all riled up. Twitter users criticized him for not realizing that he was basically describing a subway, but also for the all-too-common tech industry attitude his plans represent: that he, a tech businessman, is fit to ~revolutionize~ transportation. Not urban planners, not community members, certainly not public transit experts. But Musk.

Los Angeles actually is in the midst of expanding its subway and light rail system, and has made considerable progress. But the decades-long project has faced budgetary stall after community opposition after roadblock. Which is why some Angelenos were taken aback when the city allowed Musk to drill, baby, drill without so much as an environmental impact study

This is also far from the first time a tech company has announced a new product or service like it was The Second Coming, only to have the internet point out (in hilarious and glorious fashion) that what they’d invented was something extremely basic that already exists. 

Take, for example, a startup that “let neighbors pool their money to invest in their communities.” The internet helpfully noted that they’d invented taxes. Or the much-maligned Bodega bros, who created…. a vending machine.

And, of course, who can forget the advent of the Lyft shuttle, Uber Express Pool, and Chariot — inventors of the bus.

But hey, if Musk’s charm and vision can cut through the bureaucracy that’s kept Los Angeles gridlocked for decades, that’s awesome. Let’s just maybe do it with a *bit* of perspective, and an ego check.

You’re right, that’s asking too much.

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