By on July 16, 2019

When Elon Musk announced Tesla was developing a new Roadster, he promised us the moon. When released, the car is supposed to yield a 0-to-60 time of just 1.9 seconds and possess an all-electric range over 620 miles, thanks to its sizable, 200-kWh battery pack. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, he spent last week outlining an optional SpaceX package that includes “cold-air thrusters” that might allow the vehicle to fly.

Then he said he was serious.

As you know, flying cars are bullshit. The closest we’ve come after decades of work are road-going airplanes. But Musk asserted over Twitter that some variants of the Roaster would fly or, at the very least, be able to hover. This has to be a joke, right? 

Apparently not. When questioned the prospect of a flying Tesla, Elon was careful not to overtly double down on flying claims. But he did suggest that the car would have some ability to leave the ground using its cold-air propulsion system. “The new Roadster will actually do something like this,” Musk said in response to a gif of the hovering DeLorean from Back to the Future.

Tech-reviewer Marques Brownlee posited that the man might not be joking, to which Elon responded “I’m not. Will use SpaceX cold gas thruster system with ultra high pressure air in a composite over-wrapped pressure vessel in place of the 2 rear seats,” adding that the car should do the quarter mile in under 8 seconds. Followed by him asking, “Vertically or horizontally?”

While there’s obviously some intentional humor in this, these are still pretty bold claims for a car that that was originally supposed to come out next year and has since been placed on Tesla’s back burner. Elon called it “dessert” a few weeks ago, suggesting that prioritizing the Roadster wouldn’t be fair to the other cars. However he also recently confirmed that Tesla wouldn’t be updating the Model S or X anytime soon, so we’re not sure which cars he’s talking about. Presumably the new crossover and current Model 3… maybe that semi?

Let’s, for a moment, entertain the premise that the Roadster is still in development and the SpaceX package does indeed allow it to leave the pavement. First, that system would require some heavy hardware and expend immense amounts of energy to get aloft. Using the Model 3 as a template, Wired claimed 2.64 minutes of “flight” would be the outside limit. CleanTechnica claimed it was theoretically possible for the vehicle to hover for roughly 7 minutes by extrapolating the Roadster’s larger battery capacity (which neglects to account for the added weight). Both also presumed that the car would use rotors for lift and don’t mesh with our estimated flight time of zero minutes and zero seconds using vented gas.

New Tesla Roadster

Musk previously suggested an electric pump would replenish compressed air inside a pressure vessel that would vent through nozzles in the back of the car. But it’s difficult to imagine cold-air thrusters providing sufficient power alone. While SpaceX has more than enough engineering know-how to construct a flying machine and has developed a cold-air system for spaceflight, it’s intended for use in a vacuum — not in the dense atmosphere of Earth.

Adapting that setup for a car would also require some kind of compressed inert gas, which has to be stored somewhere (weight), and an advanced guidance system to ensure the car was controllable — even if it’s just hovering. Multiple articulated thrusters (Musk originally claimed 10) would also be required and, unless Tesla is fine using compressed air, its fuel would have to be replenished somehow. Ultimately, the setup sounds as though it would be terribly energy inefficient, seriously complicated, and insanely expensive while still being too heavy to actually fly.

Instead, we imagine that the SpaceX package would focus on improving the Roadster’s on-road performance — which Musk also mentioned and was supposed to be Tesla’s original goal. But utilizing the system to influence handling, braking, and acceleration by quantifiable degrees still involves venting super-dense (and dangerously cold) gas from all angles. Pedestrians might not appreciate that and what happens if this car gets rear ended? Even though the fuel won’t burn, that doesn’t mean rupturing one of the pressurized storage tanks won’t have catastrophic effects for the occupants. Tesla would have to reinforce the tanks to make them safe for passengers, again increasing weight.

The more we take into account, the more this whole thing sounds untenable. The only remotely plausible application I could think of is using vented gas to create some additional downforce. But I’m inclined to believe that the Tesla Roadster SpaceX variant won’t be a flying car, much like The Boring Company’s “Not A Flamethrower” wasn’t a flamethrower. And that’s being generous. More realistically, this was just Elon Musk seeing an opportunity to procure some media attention for his automotive brand. The dude wasn’t even fond of flying cars as a concept a few years ago and said they’d be too noisy, maintenance heavy, potentially dangerous, and “not a scalable solution.”

Assuming the Roadster actually ends up being built, I’m sure the SpaceX package will be a neat little gimmick for billionaires. But that is all it will be. Shame on anyone that tells you differently.

[Images: Tesla Motors]

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56 Comments on “Elon Musk Now Suggesting Tesla Roadster Will Fly With SpaceX Package...”


  • avatar

    so he was on Joe Rogan again?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I chortled.

    • 0 avatar
      JoeBrick

      @Buickman- I think he was on something else if you get my drift.
      However, if he can pull this off, he will instantly create a NEW MARKET, much like GM and Ford are DREAMING ABOUT DOING.
      Ford has lost their “focus” so to speak. They think that the market wants electric cars and trucks. They need to concentrate on selling as many cars and trucks to their so-far loyal customers. They are ABANDONING their market for a dream.* Of course, they should have some research going on the electric front, just in case the market turns that way. But it has not yet, and it is not turning that way now.
      I spent many years in manufacturing. In my opinion, the engineering department should by directly under the marketing department, not the executives in the Ivory Tower.
      * The DREAM- The automakers are sick of being under the thumbs of the EPA. If they can shift 100% to electric motors, their cars will emit NO TAILPIPE EMISSIONS. Whole departments can be eliminated, and thousands of dollars PER CAR can be taken out of the equation. Sure, they still have to meet safety requirements, but emissions regulations often conflict with safety regulations. And electric motors weigh far less than internal combustion engines. Weight is the direct enemy of gas mileage and CAFE requirements. A car with only electric motors and no cast iron or aluminum engine and no muffler and exhaust system or catylitic converter will weigh hundreds of pounds less even pending expected reductions in battery weight. But the bottom line is that they will save huge money, and emissions (pollution) will be the problem of the power company, not the automakers.
      And GM is DREAMING about creating a market where drones and worker bees are driven around in GM-owned boxes-made in China- with giant computer screens, sofas, and no windows- piloted by no driver- just the machine itself. They can do away with headlights, taillights, and more- a robot driver does not need to ‘see’ another car, it uses its radar. And the government will ‘benefit’ too. A driverless car won’t speed, or crash *LOL*. And if you don’t pay your tax on the ‘car’, it won’t start. When Uncle Sam takes over On-star. And were you planning on going to some non-politically-correct place like where they serve fast food ? No way. It is bad for you.
      See ? So many problems solved with one stroke.

  • avatar
    Snooder

    Look, we all know this is ridiculous. He’ll slap some hydraulic style jet boosts that jump the car while parked and call it a day.

    But honestly, I prefer a world where a major car manufacturer tries to make a ridiculous flying car and fails than the boring ass world where we all drive suppository style CUVs and carmakers just slap a new coat of paint on the same old shit.

    Will I BUY said ridiculous bullshit? No. Will I laugh heartily at the first idiot who kills himself with one? Yes.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Roads?

    Where we are going we don’t need – roads.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Musk is a tiresome, compulsive liar who will say anything to prop up his mismanaged car company’s stock price for five minutes. He proved that when his “innovative” Chicago tunnel to the airport turned out to be a tunnel through which one would drive a procession of Tesla cars. (Wow, what a paradigm shift!)

      Let’s look for a better quality of clickbait, eh?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    According to the faithful, the fleet of Tesla semi trucks that transport the battery packs and motors from Reno to Fremont actually gain charge by the end of the trip due to the 4500 foot elevation drop.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      While I haven’t driven that route, I’ve pushed my car 25% beyond it’s EPA range on a route that has significantly more downhill than uphill. On a flatter slower speed (55 mph) road, I’ve had range 30% over EPA range. If you’re good at regen, you very rarely touch the brake pedal. Even for exit ramps. In traffic, you end up just modulating the throttle. If you’re used to driving a manual, it comes naturally since it feels similar to engine braking.

    • 0 avatar
      Lockstops

      What do you estimate was the personal, cognitive elevation increase that Elon experienced before making that last statement?

      I wonder if it’s possible to somehow recuperate energy from stock prices going downhill?

    • 0 avatar
      JoeBrick

      Is it down hill both ways ? LOL

    • 0 avatar
      Wheatridger

      That’s entirely possible. My Ford C-Max hybrid has gained 10 miles of EV range descending the west side of I-70 from the Eisenhower Tunnel, approximately 10 miles of steep downhill. If the Tesla truck runs downhill full and heavy, and empty on the return trip, it could show net energy gains. That’s not how most trucks are used, of course.

  • avatar
    civicjohn

    Q2 earnings in a week or so, typical Musk.

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Elon is smoking the Good Stuff again.

  • avatar
    mcs

    I can understand thrusters to help acceleration, but hovering is a bit off the deep end. Imagine all the road debris that will go flying in every direction. I hope they don’t spend a lot of time and money on this.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @mcs: Don’t be surprised if those thrusters don’t help avoid potholes and wheel damage. With modern wheels and tires, a decent pothole can cost you hundreds, if not thousands, of Dollars/Euros/Yen. Having the ability to ‘hop’ over such could be a big safety advantage, too.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I know, I thought about the pothole avoidance aspects, it’s just that I’m afraid of it blowing debris/gravel back up into the underside of the car. I hate the sound of gravel pinging into a carbon-fiber body. Then, there’s the Dumbreck accident at Lemans. Active aero might help with that issue:

        youtu.be/e21ZjwZGjiQ

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        If I had this assignment, and I don’t, I would consider releasing the pressure into a closed vessel (much like the crappy ‘adjustable air shocks’ I installed on a vehicle once). Tire is already in contact with road surface – “ultra high pressure air” is released in a calibrated, timed way into rear “booster” assembly – vehicle leaves the pavement/clears the speed bump/hops the pothole/supports augmented party mode/etc. Post-event, the gas is vented through the rear license plate, because James Bond. No mess, no fuss, no road debris.

  • avatar
    Middle-Aged (Ex-Miata) Man

    COPVs, huh? I fear such a system could quickly become the CRS-7 or Amos-6 option…

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    This might seem stupid to you, but there are people who voted for AOC.

    • 0 avatar
      Lockstops

      Stupidity seems to be a competitive sport nowadays.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        You bet. Look at the White House. Stupidity can’t get much worse than that.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          You guys are taking this political stuff waaaaay too seriously. The only thing that matters is if you are better off today with President Trump in office, or not.

          Donald J. Trump was duly elected. But no matter how much good President Trump does for America, there will always be detractors and haters against him. No matter what President Trump does, for those haters it will never be good enough.

          What really matters is the vote in November next year.

          Visualize in your mind what is ahead for all the ne’er Trumpers and Trump haters if Trump gets re-elected.

          He’s got my vote.

          • 0 avatar

            To add another (unnecessary) voice to the “discussion”. Sounds a lot like what those opposed to the previous administration said and did. Agreed HDC to your point about taking an unbiased look at what any administration does – positive and negative. No administration in memory has EVER done all things well – only some or few things well. Many of the citizenry of this nation hold our elected officials to a much higher standard than we hold ourselves to in many cases. Hypocrisy abounds and I stand guilty also.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            THX1136, what has surprised many Americans who, like me, did NOT vote for Trump is how well his policies and executive orders have improved their lives and the lifestyle of the citizenry in general: More people working. Fewer people on welfare and foodstamps.

            The day after the 2016 election it was as if a collective sigh of relief was breathed by America and Americans everywhere.

            Finally, the gloom and doom of the last administration was OVER and there would not be a continuation of those policies because their “continuation” candidate lost.

            But I can understand the insecurity of America’s trading partners and Alliance members now that President Trump has brought pressure to bear on those relationships.

            If Trump gets re-elected, the pressure will get worse because the need for civility to get re-elected will be gone.

            The last guy in the White House once said, “After the election I will have more flexibility.” He was right. Hopefully that increased flexibility will now be passed on to Trump with his re-election.

            There’s joy in Mudville, as they say. Never thought I would hear that again during my lifetime.

            And there will be a lot of new cars sold prior to the election in 2020, and even more if Trump gets re-elected.

            You can take that to the bank. I’m planning to buy a new one. Maybe two, once we decide where we’re going to live out the remainder of our lives.

        • 0 avatar
          JoeBrick

          @GoldenRetriever–
          “You bet. Look at the White House. Stupidity can’t get much worse than that”.—
          Then his second term ended, and he couldn’t run again. He was then replaced with Donald J. Trump. Thank God.

    • 0 avatar
      JoeBrick

      @ToddAtLast- You’re right. That was stupid.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    It could be something like the Turbonique rocket-assisted drag race axles that were produced on a limited basis in the 1960s. Only, presumably, safer, using a cold gas generator rather than a liquid rocket fuel.

    https://bangshift.com/bangshift1320/amazing-historic-videos-turbonique-company-promotional-films/

    https://jalopnik.com/video-the-demented-rocket-propelled-genius-of-turboniq-5481005

    https://jalopnik.com/for-sale-turbonique-rocket-drag-axle-equipped-1964-for-373531

  • avatar
    cprescott

    I’m all for this if Elon is strapped to a seat and sent to space. I wonder if there is enough room in the front seat for his ego?

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    It astounds me there are still mouth breathers that believe this fraud.

    He couldn’t even build the $35k model 3 he promised yet he’s going to build this thing??

    He should be in prison.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Tesla did indeed build the $35k Model 3. The SEC is aware of this.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @EBFlex: “He couldn’t even build the $35k model 3 he promised yet he’s going to build this thing??”
      — To be more truthful, he DID build it. I guess you just missed it.

      • 0 avatar
        EBFlex

        “Tesla Declines as Model 3 Price Cut Renews Demand Concerns

        (Bloomberg) — Tesla Inc. cut the starting price of the Model 3 sedan in the U.S. weeks after a federal tax credit shrank in half, renewing concern over whether the electric-car maker can sustain sales with less support from incentives.

        The Model 3 now starts at $38,990, according to Tesla’s website.”

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          And yet Tesla’s share price continued its climb today DESPITE the overall market falling, including GM, Ford and FCA. So your quoted headline was wrong.

          And yes, Tesla did market a $35K “stripper” for one week during the first quarter and almost nobody–nobody–took them up on it.

          • 0 avatar
            EBFlex

            So in your bizarro world, you believe selling an extremely limited garbage model three for one single week fulfills his 3 year promise of a $35k (garbage) car? Are you really that thick?

            The fact he lied and then gladly took money from people based on that lie (because why turn a profit when you can just raise capital over and over and over again by issuing empty promises?) means he should be in jail. He is a fraud.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Considering your language, you answered your own question to your own detriment. Maybe you should try understanding rather than simply jumping to conclusions.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Hopefully this flying people carrier won’t explode like the Dragon passenger capsule. Seriously, this is such a crock it doesn’t deserve to be reported. It’s just Elon venting compressed air.

  • avatar

    Cars are like chickens – they can fly short distances. If you do not believe me – watch Smokey and Bandit.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Assuming the Roadster actually ends up being built, I’m sure the SpaceX package will be a neat little gimmick for billionaires.”

    Um, yeah. To begin with, who else buys $250k cars?

    You guys wasted a lot of ink on nothing here.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Hovercraft are not much fun in winds. Been in them from the cross English Channel ferries to hobby versions. Fun to float and dash around in calm weather so long as you wear ear defenders — a bit dicey when the wind gets up. Control jets flailing away in desperation at vectoring 6000 lbs of junk under the control of Autopilot Upgrade Version 3.0 in a mild breeze would be a sight for sore eyes. For a couple of minutes. Musk seems incapable of sorting out his good ideas from his mostly bad ones.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      I imagine the autopilot would see a speed bump in the parking ramp and activate the thrusters so the car can clear the speed bump smoothly, crashing into the roof of the parking ramp.

  • avatar
    LeBaron

    This should be great entertainment. Elon Musk and Paul Moller teaming up to run the biggest automotive scam since Preston Tucker.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Yes, and I’m sure Mexico will pay for it too.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    If it has a 200 kWhr battery, it will weigh DOUBLE what a sporty GT should weigh (not much over 2000#)


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