Tesla Roadster: Rocket Propelled SpaceX Package Could Be Hydrogen Fueled

The Tesla Roadster SpaceX could be the next car that runs on hydrogen. Tesla founder Elon Musk detailed some of his visions for the supercar on The Joe Rogan Experience, and they include hovering six feet off the ground. Musk is known for making outrageous statements. Is this just another off-the-cuff quote or a hint at a future development announcement?

A Tesla Roadster floats in space piloted by a mannequin in a space suit
Tesla Roadster launched into space | SpaceX via Getty Images

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Musk hints at Tesla Roadster SpaceX secrets

Elon Musk had been carefully dodging questions about the Roadster’s specs since the car was announced in 2017. His interview with Joe Rogan in May of 2020 was more of the same. While Musk was hesitant to release hard specs, he did share some thoughts that open up a lot of exciting questions.

Rogan asked how the Roadster achieves its predicted acceleration of 0-60 mph in just under two seconds. Musk replied that the Roadster does some things that are “unfair.” Musk declined to elaborate when pressed for details.

The Tesla Roadster is part rocket ship

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The Tesla Roadster’s SpaceX package will include roughly 10 rocket thrusters. On Jay Leno’s Garage, Musk confirmed at least one rocket thruster location. The Tesla Roadster’s license place will be mounted on a motorized actuator. The plate lowers, revealing a cold-gas rocket thruster. This is one of the “unfair” things Musk was referencing.

The physics that make it possible

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As implausible as it may sound, what Musk describes is far from impossible. Hovercraft have existed for decades, and the technology has been massively improved. What needs to happen to get the Roadster off the ground?

First, the Roadster’s overall weight needs a serious reduction. To maintain a six-foot elevation from the ground, Tesla would need to nix the heavy battery system and All-wheel-drive. Even trimmed down, the Roadster’s thrusters will need a lot of fuel to keep the car in the air.

Why hydrogen is a practical choice

To fuel the Tesla Roadster’s suite of rocket boosters without adding much weight, Musk would have to think outside the box. Hydrogen gas is light. Lighter than air or helium. It was once widely touted as the fuel of the tomorrow. Futurist Elon Musk grew up with that message.

Hydrogen is the fuel of choice for other hovercraft built on the same principles. This type of rocket-propelled hovercraft is typically known as a Vertical Take-off and Landing vehicle or VTOL. Musk could make the Roadster fly (a little) if he powers it with hydrogen.

Hydrogen cars already exist

Hydrogen cars are already on the street today. There are fewer than 50 hydrogen fueling stations in the United States. 22 of them are in the state of California. Honda released the Clarity Fuel Cell car powered by hydrogen for 2021. It boasts the instant acceleration and zero emissions a hydrogen fuel cell offers.

Because of the limited availability of hydrogen fueling stations, the Honda Clarity is only sold in California. If Tesla produces a hovering Roadster, it won’t have many places to fuel up. Many predict that hydrogen fuel cell cars will be as common as EVs and hybrids are today within a few decades. The technology needs time to be scalable.