Folks frequently use space age analogies when talking about vehicles. They drive “pocket rockets” and “launch” from 0 to 60. Now, Tesla appears to be taking things to the next level. Perhaps borrowing a page from his SpaceX venture, Elon Musk suggests the second-generation Tesla Roadster may use rockets to help deliver 0 to 60 times of a mere 1.1 seconds.
It’s not quite clear how the California EV manufacturer would pull it off — or if such a concept would even be street legal. Some observers believe such technology would be limited to track applications — but could make for one big show on the drag strip.
“Yes, with the SpaceX rocket thruster option package. It will be safe, but very intense. Probably not wise for those with a medical condition – same as a hardcore roller coaster,” Tesla CEO Musk wrote in a recent tweet.
A high-stress ride
Launching from 0 to 60 would indeed put some significant stress on the body, pushing you deep into your seat with G-forces of about three times normal gravity. By comparison, the 808-horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat Demon, generates about 1.8 Gs in a flat out launch hitting 60 mph in about 2.3 seconds.
If real, the Roadster wouldn’t be the first wheeled vehicle to use rockets. That trick has been tried on various land speed attempts — though RAF pilot Andy Green relied on two jet engines to break the sound barrier and take the record in his Thrust SSC in October 1997.
The original Roadster was Tesla’s very first retail model, debuting in 2008. Capable of hitting 60 in as little as 3.7 seconds, while delivering more than 200 miles per charge, the Roadster helped change the perception of what electric vehicles could accomplish. It was discontinued four years later as Tesla shifted focus to more mainstream products, starting with the Model S sedan.
A rocket-powered halo
But Musk announced four years ago plans to bring the Roadster back as the brand’s halo product — even though demand for sports cars has all but dried up in today’s SUV-crazed market. When he revealed a prototype in November 2017, the South African-born entrepreneur said the second-generation Roadster would hit 60 in 1.9 seconds in “Maximum Plaid” mode, with a top speed “above 250 mph.”
While Musk didn’t release horsepower, he noted that the four-seater will turn out 10,000 Nm torque. No, that’s not a typo. And for the metrically challenged, 10,000 Nm translates into an equally mind-bending 7,376 pound-feet of torque.
The big question has been how Tesla actually plans to get the Roadster to put all that power to the pavement. When making those sorts of numbers, the big challenge is getting tires to grip the tarmac, rather than just spin and make lots of smoke.
Using a rocket system could be the solution. The action-reaction process would propel the Roadster forward, even if it were trying to get going on sheer ice. But the next question would be: what then? The tires would quickly have to “hook up” to gain the traction a driver needs to control the vehicle. Rockets are good for launching along a relatively straight line. They have a really, seriously hard time with turns and corners.
Last month’s Twitter post wasn’t the first time Musk talked about using rocket propulsion on a land vehicle. He first hinted about a SpaceX option back in June 2018, suggesting it would utilize “~10 small rocket thrusters arranged seamlessly around car.”
As to what sort of rockets they would be, that was left unsaid in the latest tweet. Solid boosters can be tricky to ignite simultaneously and can’t be shut off once lit. Liquid-fueled rockets are far more complex but can be controlled once turned on, and then turned off for multiple uses.
Musk hinted at another alternatives, a while back, one that only marginally fits into the “rocket” category. “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,” he tweeted in 2019.
Is he kidding?
Of course, skeptics could question whether this project is at all serious. Musk, after all, has shown himself to be fond of jokes and even named his youngest son X Æ A-12.
He’s also fond of stunts and pitches meant to keep himself, and Tesla, in the headlines — especially when it comes to drawing attention away from product problems and delays. The debut of the Tesla Roadster originally was scheduled for 2020. It’s currently pitched as a 2023 model that will make its appearance sometime next year.
Even if Musk and company do figure out the technical challenges there are several other things that could keep a rocket version in the fantasy column. For one thing, such a version of the Roadster would clearly not be the pure, zero-emissions vehicle that Musk says the world needs. Such a smoking monster might not sit well with the brand’s environmentally friendly fans.
Then there’s the regulatory issue. For now, at least, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration doesn’t have standards covering rocket-propelled automobiles. That could pose an insurmountable challenge for Tesla — at least on public roads. But the concept could find a ready audience among drag racers.