Connect any point on Earth in less than an hour in five years. Not content with pushing the limits of space exploration, SpaceX, the aerospace company of Elon Musk, also intends to revolutionize land transfers through intercontinental rocket flights capable of transporting a hundred people from one end to the other, another on the planet in time. record.
The concept is dizzying: after taking off vertically from a sea launch pad, the rocket must leave Earth’s atmosphere before reentering to land smoothly, still vertically. Announced five years ago, the project mobilizes the famous Starship reusable rocket, whose first horizons remain for now the Moon and Mars.
Questioned by RTL in mid-September, SpaceX wanted to reassure its mid-term viability. But the project is still shrouded in mystery. In addition to ticket prices, the acceptability of these elitist flights, more demanding than current long-haul flights, is far from certain at a time of appeal to energetic sobriety.
The supersonic plane still grounded
The ecological imperative is also on its way to putting lead on the wing of the supersonic plane. Fifteen years after the last Concorde flight, several aerospace players have got it into their heads to give a descendant to the “white bird”, capable of crossing the Atlantic in less than an hour and correcting the main flaws of the illustrious commercial plane, namely its lack of profitability , its environmental impact and the noise pollution generated on takeoff by breaking the sound barrier.
Projects have multiplied in recent years, such as the Stargazer, capable of spinning at more than 10,000 km/h in the air, or the Venus Aerospace, which promises to reduce the time needed to connect Tokyo and Los Angeles by ten. NASA and Boeing are also in the running, as are China and the British government.
Industry players hope to reconcile speed and carbon neutrality by using alternative fuels. But the proposal looks increasingly untenable as the aviation industry as a whole seeks to become more sustainable. In these headwinds, engine maker Rolls-Royce also recently abandoned one of the industry’s most iconic projects, that of the young shot Boom Supersonic, now considered too risky.
Hyperloop is still a mirage
Another tech dream that has gotten a lot of ink flowing in recent years, the Hyperloop promises to replace air transport with land transport almost as fast and eco-friendly in favor of capsules that travel at over 1,000 km/h in vacuum steel tubes perched on poles. . Made famous by Elon Musk in 2013, who envisioned being able to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour this way, the concept was adopted by several companies that tried to bring it to life. But progress is still limited as technical and financial challenges remain numerous.
If the Virgin Hyperloop company, owned by billionaire Richard Branson, was one of the first to carry out full-scale tests at almost 400 km / h in the Nevada desert and then transport passengers, now it has returned, redirecting its activity to the transport of cargo. Very active in the matter, the company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (Hyperloop TT) has concluded agreements around the world, including the opening of a line between Venice and Padua for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy.
In Canada, the TransPod company recently raised over half a billion dollars for a line connecting Calgary and Edmonton. But his French test track project in Haute-Vienne has yet to see the light of day. Four years after targeting a site a few kilometers outside of Limoges to try out and validate the technology, work has not yet begun. However, the company assures RTL that it still intends to open in the summer of 2023.
Air taxis on display at the 2024 Olympics?
Expected for several years to decongest cities with congested road traffic and say goodbye to pollution and noise, “flying cars”, an old cinematic fantasy, are still far from a reality. Dozens of VTOL prototypes – electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft able to break free from current tracks to respond to the problems of urban centers – are developing all over the world, waiting for the take-off of a market that has already swallowed several billions of dollars, driven by its multiple points of sale that go beyond the simple transport of people, last mile logistics through sanitary maintenance, without forgetting surveillance or rescue.
In France, the ambitions of this new air mobility are centered around the aerodrome of Pontoise, where the Aéroport de Paris, the RATP and the Île-de-France region have hosted dozens of manufacturers, engine manufacturers and equipment manufacturers in last two years. “vertiport” to facilitate experiments, future approvals and create new regulations dedicated to working on the social acceptability of this new mode of transport. With the Paris 2024 Olympic Games in sight, where these flying taxis will be able to make their first demonstration flights for the general public. The real deployment of urban air mobility is not foreseen until the end of the decade, or even until 2040 for unmanned aircraft.
The self-driving car is buying time
The prospect of cars driving alone on the roads doesn’t seem much more imminent. The craze for autonomous vehicles has waned somewhat compared to the enthusiastic predictions of professionals in the mid-2010s. But manufacturers continue their developments in tandem with advances in regulations.
A few days ago, you could drive hands-free in France. The decree authorizing the driving of level 3 autonomous vehicles took effect in early September. Autonomy still conditional, however, because the automated driving system must be able to be deactivated at any time taking control and the speed limited to 60 km/h. And very relative: no such vehicle is sold in the territory. For now, only Mercedes has vehicles homologated for this level of autonomy in Europe. And Honda in Japan. Tesla or the French manufacturers have not yet lined up. The Stellantis group (Citroën, Peugeot, Fiat and Jeep) plans to launch its first system of its kind within two years.
The search for the last two levels, full autonomy, where the presence of an operator is no longer necessary on board, is an even more distant horizon, especially targeted by operators of shared mobility, such as Waymo (Google), Lyft or the French Navya , to be able to offer fleets of robot taxis and autonomous buses in the coming years.