English
13.10.2013

The zero-g Hyperloop in the Alps

Parabolic flight pilot Paul Bierl wants to add a futuristic attraction to Austria’s mountains. He is looking for visionary partners like Hyperloop inventor Elon Musk for his idea.

Stargate is the preliminary name of a system that is to allow paying customers to experience weightlessness without having to get into an airplane or go to space. The principle behind this is parabolic flight. Instead of experiencing zero-G in the phase between climb and descent in an airplane, this is to take place in a ground-based system.

Similar to Hyperloop

Paul Bierl, the inventor of Stargate, envisions a kind of Hyperloop in the Alps. The Hyperloop is a transport solution proposed by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk that would carry people between major cities at the speed of sound using capsules and a vacuum tube. This tube transport system for people was recently presented and was quite the sensation.

Paul Bierl stresses that the plans for “Stargate” were completed quite some time before this. The farmer and pilot tinkered on the concept with his wife and friends for many years. Elon Musk’s Hyperloop reminds him very much of his own project. With Stargate as well, people are to be transported through a tube in capsules, and the tubes are to have a lower air pressure or even be in a state of vacuum to reduce air resistance.

Unlike the Hyperloop, Stargate is not to run over relatively flat terrain, but over a mountain. The mountain is to act as a foundation for what is as close to a perfect parabolic curve as possible. Bierl’s plan calls for an elevation difference of 1,500 meters between the lowest and highest point of the curve. The total course is to be six kilometers long including the acceleration and deceleration sections.

The capsule in the Stargate tube is to run on an electromagnetic rail like on a maglev train, with zero friction. The electromagnetic system is to accelerate the capsule to up to 280 kilometers per hour and to also decelerate the capsule from that speed. According to Bierl, the system represents a solution that is independent of the weather conditions, that can be operated year round, that needs no fossil fuels, and that creates uniform states of weightlessness.

The Alps are the perfect location for the Stargate because of their topography, Bierl said. There is sufficient tourist infrastructure because of the numerous ski areas. But Stargate is not only intended for private individuals. Industrial partners could use the system to test applications in zero-g. And professional astronauts could also conduct training in the Stargate.

Each run, six paying passengers are to be taken in one capsule – which is to have roughly the same interior dimensions as one module of the International Space Station. The six passengers will be accompanied by three instructors. During one run, the capsule will be shot over the mountain ten times. On each individual trip, the passengers will experience weightlessness for roughly 20 seconds, or about three minutes in total on one run. One run is to cost between EUR 600 and 700 per person.

Magnetic levitation: almost silent, friction free and very fast

According to Bierl, the costs are fair given the ability to experience weightlessness: “For many, zero gravity will be an experience that they will never forget, and that they will retain for a lifetime.” With Stargate, the passengers are to be able to float about freely in the capsule. Bierl already offered this experience in an airplane between 2002 and 2005.

But parabolic flights were effectively prohibited with chartered airplanes because of new legal requirements and concerns of the charter companies about increased engine wear. But Bierl has not given up his passion, and today offers passengers an experience that is close to zero gravity in gliders with his company blufly. They are buckled into a seat, but are taken through acrobatic maneuvers by a stunt pilot.

The experiences that Bierl’s team has gathered in parabolic flight has led to an intense exchange of experiences with representatives of the European Space Agency. Bierl said that he also submitted his plans for a ground-based zero-g system to the ESA. But the joint development of the project was not successful. Now, Bierl is looking for investors so that he can make Stargate a reality.

His partners of choice are very famous: Mateschitz, Branson and Musk. Bierl has already held negotiations with Red Bull. But these were also not successful. It is also very difficult to come into contact with wealthy pioneers like Virgin founder Richard Branson and Elon Musk. Banks have all said that Bierl’s project is too risky. And Bierl was rejected by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency.

Bierl had the feasibility of his concept assessed by an engineering firm in Munich that specializes in roller coaster construction – and they said it could be done. The experts in Munich also estimated the costs. According to their calculations, the system would cost around EUR 66 million to build. The annual operating costs would be roughly EUR 14 million. But because of its absolutely unique nature and high advertising value, Bierl is convinced that Stargate would be highly profitable.

The difficult path to weightlessness

Open questions

“I have interested engineers, but I need to raise enough capital first,” said Bierl, describing his situation in a nutshell. But he also admitted that there are still open questions. The design of the system track is variable, for example. It could be in a tunnel and use magnetic levitation, or could be a conventional system on rails in the open. There are also multiple possible designs for the passenger capsule and for the drive.

And the safety systems have not been defined yet. How would an emergency stop work when you are barreling down a mountainside at 280 kilometers per hour? What would happen when the track were interrupted by natural or man-made causes? And the energy consumption of Stargate can only be roughly estimated. The project could use plenty of professional help, and lots of pioneering spirit. Bierl: “What I really want is an investor who is personally involved and who has enough influence.”