Boring Machines for Deep Underground Lairs and Starting Underground Worlds

There are many bunkers and facilities that are very deep underground.

Iran has its Furdow Nuclear Facility which is 80 meters under hard rock and special hardened cement. Iran claims to have built a military base that is under 500 meters of dirt and rock in a mountain range.

A facility 500 meters underground has entrances, air vents, radio antenna and other vital infrastructure that have ground level portions. Destroy them and you could isolate a bunker or even suffocate its inhabitants.

China has a massive nuclear bunker system that can hold 1 million people. The nuclear shelter system is up to 2000 meters deep and was built within a deep natural cave system.

Electric Tunneling Machines for Getting Out of Underground Complexes

Elon Musk’s Boring Company recently completed a 1.25 mile tunnel in Los Angeles. In 2019, Elon Musk will start building a third generation all-electric tunneling machine which should be fifteen times faster. Currently, tunneling machines have about 20 meters per day speed. The third generation tunneling machine, Prufrock, will have a digging speed of about 300 meters per day.

The all-electric digging machine does not need to have air vents for the emissions. The Prufrock Machine would only need a week to dig new exits from even China’s 2000 meter deep nuclear shelter cave system.

If entrances are collapsed then electric digging machines would be able to dig new entrances and exits. The all-electric digging machine does not need to have air vents for the emissions.

Conversely, underground facilities could be attacked by digging machines.

Massive Underground Cities and Tunnel Systems

Elon Musk wants to make tunnels all across cities like Los Angeles. He wants to make many underground tunnels instead of roads or overpasses. He sees perhaps hundreds of layers of tunnels.

Boring company has a contract to the empty Chicago Block37 train station and O’Hare International Airport. Travel time would drop to 12 minutes instead of 50 minutes. People would either travel in their own electric self-driving Tesla’s at 150 miles per hour or in Tesla built electric tunnel vehicles.

Underground cities and complexes would enable another dimension to civilization.

105 thoughts on “Boring Machines for Deep Underground Lairs and Starting Underground Worlds”

  1. Thanks to everyone for the responses. Underground rights are not the problem, the 800′ X 250′ footprints (2) are, even after 8 courtyard shafts that create more surface area for windows. Right now, I’ve managed to place at least 1 window in every major room, except in one line of apts. – the ‘U’ line. This ‘U’ line varies from 1 to 3 bedrooms, depending on floor, and would be the cheapest line in the building. The cheapest 2BR ‘U’ line would rent for $882/month and would have these “World Windows” in both living and bedrooms, which could show images from anywhere in the world where there’s a feed from a security camera available for a small fee. This would be a separate business, possibly extending beyond the RiverArch itself.
    It will make a lot more sense to you from this video fly-through and details in the comments section :
    We are working with a zoning lawyer to establish an amendment to allow for this type of building, and the current design allowing for 7,630 apts. and 50 businesses will probably be amended to a more mixed use office/residential/hotel/utility building (energy neutral to energy positive due to 5 offgrid energy sources).
    Partners present & sought.

  2. No, he’s just following his usual “learning while earning” strategy. He needs tunneling capability
    for the colony.

  3. Interesting what you proposed here. Essentially you are removing large trucks from the roadways completely. Food, bulk materials and liquids transport simply disappear from the roads. Cars are for people going to and from jobs and home, while unsightly and awkward trucks go through tunnels. I like it.

  4. Basement apartments are almost undiscounted, and plenty of people in eg Hong Kong live in windowless apartments. So, absolutely, people will live underground, the question is at what discount. Then compare that to savings on land vs expense of ventilation, humidity, more or less climate control, etc.

  5. Scott, you should be able to find a proxy in basement-apartment discounts or windowless apartments such as “micro” apartments in Hong Kong.

    Based on these, people don’t seem to mind living underground, but they do really want real windows. So maybe 30-50% discount in rent.

    If you’re talking longer term, people could gradually regard screens as closer to windows, or some tech could alleviate the claustrophobia (eg “fresh air” generators).

  6. You could easily build a big cave if the rock conditions are right (eg the natural cave Son Doong in Vietnam can fit a 40 story building). I doubt you could find the space in NYC as “ground rights” will soon be as valuable as “air rights”. Also think the development costs will be enormous because you are adding a lot to construction and maintenance that an above-ground wouldn’t have. So rents/prices would have to be at a steep premium and not discounted (unless you are a philanthropist). If it’s meant as a bug-out shelter it wouldn’t work either because if TSHTF NYC is the last place people will want to be.

    There is quite a growing market for high-tech bomb proof shelters (aka caves) for the very rich, that has all the amenities, including your hi-res “windows” and UV light rooms, game halls, pools, you name it.

  7. oh yeah, forgot about that. I know that you could synthesize fuel, but was thinking about the downstream products. Now realize you could synthesize ethylene as well and use that as feedstock for almost any C+H based product, polymers etc. Thanks for pointing this out.

  8. Mat… Digging, drilling, blasting, taking out to build rubble piles for underground complexes would take to much supplies, effort and time. Even if robots that repair robots that repair robots. Lots of the wearoutables would become space dust in no time. Park your ships and bulldozers near a carefully selected crater. Winch your habitats with a dome on the top, ((offset later) to protect the habitat from radiation) to the bottom of the crater. Cover over crater and most of habitat over with the bulldozers pushing debris in. Allow dome and doors exposed above crater surface. With robots or people sinter over soil covered crater to prevent wind erosion of the area. Rinse and repeat several times. Easy breezy. Mars city.

  9. My first thought upon hearing about The Boring Company was Martian boreholes. Hearing that the machine can produce bricks in real time only cements, if you’ll pardon the expression, my analysis that this is just another piece of Musk’s Martian empire.

  10. I think the reasons go deeper than that. If you can drive a direct route from one side of L.A. to the other at 150 mph, but only if you have a fast self-driving electric vehicle with special bumper wheels poking out the sides, that puts Tesla in a pretty good market position even if other manufacturers are allowed to play.

    Tunnels this size also work for hyperloops, which Musk cleverly got lots of other people to work on, likely knowing that they’d run into trouble with right-of-way and he’d be able to bypass those problems by providing tunnels.

  11. Ok, so we talking gravitational pull of surrounding cave walls Earth vs Mars. Me bad. You can probably build bigger caves. But you can build immense caves on Earth too, provided the forces holding it up > gravitational pull (the supporting walls etc). The savings you get on Mars is effort required i.e., energy spent. Might not be so much if you can extract fuel from the rock and have abundant fuel.

  12. Reduced heating and cooling costs and a subsequent reduction in pollution? Great. Increased protection from natural disasters, including actual damage? Great. Where do I sign up?

  13. I misread your comment and got sarcastic, sorry. Caves can be bigger on Mars everything else being equal (type of rock, cave dimensions etc)

  14. I think you missed Olive Pumpkin’s point. The lower the gravity, the bigger the cave can be before it is likely to collapse. Of course, that is irrelevant if humans can’t remain healthy at much less than earth gravity.

  15. Actually Musk hired away one of the head employees of Robbins company to work on his systems. As for concrete, much of the spoils aren’t at all close to the specs needed for concrete. It would have to be hauled out of the tunnel, treated, mixed into a workable batch, and poured into forms to make the needed precast panels. Then add curing time to produce at least 5000 psi break strength, and hauled back into the TBM for erection.
    Also you have to take into consideration the surrounding areas where the tunnel is built. They don’t build them in rural areas. They are built in cities, where the property for such a massive attempt would be a major concern. We used onsite batch plants for concrete back in the early 80′ s for NYC water tunnel 3. They take up a lot of room. That is why in NYC they haul concrete from batch plants already set in place elsewhere.
    We could argue about this all day but it still wont change anything. It’s not quantum physics here.
    Musk is throwing a hail Mary on a whim because he got stuck in traffic.

  16. That does seem like a better idea. Tunnels might still be useful between caves, but that’d be further down the road.

  17. I live inside a box on Planet Earth. I don’t have a problem with living in a box that happens to be underground on Mars. 🙂

  18. “apples to oranges”…I see what you did there 🙂

    If you haven’t watched Musk’s presentation at the tunnel opening, you should (and I’d love to see what you think of it). For example, he mentions that traditionally people truck away all that material, then bring in new gravel to make concrete. He plans to make concrete on site with gravel dug out of the tunnel.

    Somehow he built a one-mile tunnel for $10 million. It’s a smaller diameter than conventional tunnels but he seems to be doing a lot of innovative stuff too.

  19. Surface domes could be a reasonable option once the teraforming effort has gotten the atmospheric pressure up to something more reasonable, and they’d just be separating breathable air from mostly CO2.

  20. That’s just the droppings from graphic artists. They don’t count, I doubt your average graphic artist has even HEARD of thermodynamics, let alone ever used a steam table.

  21. There have been a number of devices designed to send surface light down to people’s basements using fiber optics. I believe at least one was a Kickstarter project. Unfortunately, the equipment needed to track sunlight on the surface has been a sticking point for making it cost effective. All the same, anywhere unaltered organic beings are likely to be out from under the Earth’s protective atmosphere, they are likely to be deep underground or behind ice shielding or some such. This seems like one of the better alternatives to artificial light, situation permitting.

  22. why a TBM? excavators instead. You need caves, not tunnels. A regular 6m diameter TBM weighs in at 400 tons…Basically, creating a habitat on Mars is a mining operation. Bring your own dynamite.

  23. I’m not a rocket scientist but I am a miner. I’ve done everything from EPB machines to main beam hard rock TBM’s for the past 40 years. It’s more than keeping the tbm running. You have to resupply the expendables and haul out thousands of cy of spoils. Once its mined it doesn’t just disappear, it has to be trucked away from the site. It was a good post but yout comparing apples to oranges.

  24. Watch Musk’s presentation. He talks about the machine automatically installing support structures as it tunnels.

    He’s already 100X cheaper so he’s doing *something* different.

  25. “There is no rocket today capable of returning from orbit, landing under its own power, and being reused. It ain’t gonna happen, no matter how much $$ Musk throws at it.”

    …said all the aerospace companies now licking their wounds

  26. There are entrances and exits along the entire length of the tunnel. Using the elevator, an access point takes two parking spaces.

    With a couple hundred levels of tunnel, you don’t need any given tunnel to carry a huge amount of traffic.

    It’s feasible to build that many tunnels if you can make them cheap enough. Musk claims he can make bricks from dug-out material, sell them for under half what they cost at Home Depot, and come close to paying for the tunnel.

  27. LAN of course, else watching netflix will leave a poor user experience, especially if you forgot to turn on adblocking.

  28. yeah, additive manufacturing is basically glorified printers. You just need enough of the right toner “cartridges”. My guess is your starter kit might be a tad under-dimensioned. If you want to build “heavy machinery” like boring machines, excavators, transporters and other “big” things that you will need (but modern versions). Good news is that Mars has a lot of iron. So there would need to be an ability to mine and smelt. Lack of hydrocarbons suggest very difficult to make plastics and graphene. Windows for the vehicles? There should be a lot of SiO2 as well. just need to get it and process it. Somehow. But doing without hydrocarbons is a really tough problem.

  29. For $10 million they dug a one-mile tunnel, drove cars through it at high speed, and put a car elevator on one end. Normal price for a one-mile tunnels is a hundred times that much.

    And that was with the first-generation machine, which is no faster than conventional machines. Musk claims their newest machine will be 15X faster.

  30. It is safer to be underground during a Earthquake than overground (like with a Tsunami is better to be in high sea than on the coast)

  31. You need a “seed” able to self replicate.
    It was something Drexel worked on the 70s (IIRC) for Moon bases and such.
    Apparently the minimum mass required of robots and tools was around 50 tons of equipments (with Moon, no computer needed, just good robotic remotely operated from Earth).
    At worst, you need to get a robust reserve of stuff you can not build in loco in the first years (like state of the art microchips and likes).
    Nothing very heavy, just difficult to make in a not very large and specialized economy.

  32. NBF should do an article on the Lowline Park proposed for NYC. It will use fiberoptics and mirrors to spread sunlight underground, enough to support trees in the abandoned train tunnel proposed.

  33. I’m working on a massive building that would have so much interior space that it would be possible to have apts. with virtual windows instead of real ones. Basically, these would be 10′ W by 5′ H screens showing hi-res color live feeds fom outside cameras. Assuming full access to the rest of a good building’s amenities, and an affordable discounted price, would you be willing to live in such an apt? What discount to market rate – in NYC – would make it worth it to you? Serious question for my research.

  34. Absolutely. You CAN live on Mars if you have the right amount of radiation shielding. And storm protection. But why do all that when you can protect yourself with tons of rock above you instead? There are nice little ppts that show how we could live underground on Mars “the tunneling machines do all the work and you just need to install doors and fixtures”. The test will be when someone prototypes the actual amount of work involved to dig a cave to fully sustain, say, 12 people with everything needed. And replicates this on Earth, complete with “build on site”. How much material is needed, the tech required (water, sewage, food yada yada). It’s a sobering reality.

  35. Ok, time for silliness here Brian. Building INTO a mountain (Iran) or a cave system (China) is pretty easy. Heck, the Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland is 35 MILES long and sits under mountains that weight gazillion tons. So what? by the way, the Chinese “secret lair” is NOT 2,000 meters deep (down), it is about 500m deep INTO the rock and has about 2,000 meters of tunnels in total – a huge difference. 2,000 deep down would mean – roughly – a 50 to 60c (centigrade) temperature down there. Not exactly habitable without enormous HVAC and other systems. Add to this there is no need to be down that far. And with the surface area of a “big cave” you need to proportionally increase your survival systems. Not to mention the need to massive UV systems. And don’t forget potential radioactivity – radon – in the bedrock. Lastly – why on earth would you want to create huge underground systems at great expense? There is plently of above-ground space. For defense-command facilities I get it, otherwise it’s a useless exercise.

    Cave building on other planets may be the only way to go. But building a boring machine on-site (it’s useless to think a boring machine should be transported from Earth) AND all the other survival systems needed is daunting. Maybe it’s better to find existing caves and revert to how we lived 50,000 years ago, albeit with internet.

  36. Living underground has always made sense but is now technically possible (air pumps, running water, electricity, lighting, etc.) I’m not sure about how well it works in earthquake prone areas.

  37. Yes, the gravitation pull of being hundreds of feet underground is so immense you will need to spend a year in the gym doing squats before even considering attempting such a feat. Maybe visit the Dead Sea at 1,400 feet below sea level and practice. Certainly no one has ever been to such depths ever. You can go first.

  38. You most certainly need air, lots and lots of it. Especially dehumidifier systems And you’ll need heating. And filtering. Living underground is significantly more expensive than living on top.

  39. “OMG, so much brutalist architecture obscuring the landscape!”

    Well that objection is easily overcome with a law enforcing Gothic or Neo-grecian styling only. Any brutalism will be banned and the architect responsible locked in stocks for people to throw fruit at.

    I think a referendum on that would get 80% of the vote.

  40. If anything the first big structures on Mars will be more like stadiums than domes. Inside won’t be open like stadiums however, more like multilevel complexes. Underground is an option, but don’t think that just because Elon has an electric boring machine that now he is going to be building tunnels on Mars. That one machine weighs so much that it would take dozens of rockets to get just 1 machine there and now you have to power it.

  41. I frankly think it’s a huge leap of faith to assume living on Masrs is even viable period. Sorry to rain on everybodies parade but this is obvious to me.

  42. This brings to mind that old post apocalyptic Gene Roddenberry movie were they showcase a huge network of high speed underground travel tubes connecting most locations on earth. Anyone remember that?

  43. I heard some pretty reasonable arguments way this is all bogus. The boil down to capacity and interface capacity. The first is it won’t carry all that many people/cars. The second is if it did there would be one heck of a traffic jam getting into and out of it.

  44. Nope, a lot more silly than reusable rockets and cars that drive themselves which were all pretty much standard fair in your typical SF novel however underground lairs are pretty much comic book material. 😉

  45. I’ve heard them talk about automating the support structures but I agree, this is definitely the tricky part. I think they plan on using the brick making technology they’ve been playing with recently.

  46. It’s all about packaging & execution. The likes of SpaceX & Apple didn’t invent anything fundamentally new, their success is due to successful integrating existing tech & execution.

  47. Most people I know don’t like living IN cities however that (because of the government and corporate welfare to get them to build there) is because that’s where the jobs have moved to.

    Me? I live in a city of 300 40 minutes from my work.

  48. OK, here is another perspective. Develop science and technology over centuries, primarily as a hobby or an afterthought of self-destruction; build a space program, also as a hobby or an afterthought of self-destruction; build an interplanetary ship; land on another planet; dig holes using a pinnacle of robotics technology… and for what? To move into the caves?! People, caves are readily available right here, and they can be nice ones, with sky portals and trees and lakes. Going to another world to move into caves is really un-intelligent. Having gone into vastness of space, there is no better option but stay in vastness of space, and land on planets and elsewhere only as needed, not as a self-inflicted miserable fate. You have seen “Passsangers”, haven’t you? “Avalon” is the way to live in space, not dangeons of Mars, Luna or whatever. An invitation to caves should be a big red flag for anyone who is awake.

  49. Find cave. Polish cave walls, spray sealant. Laser measurement of interior dimensions, manufacture liner to exact dimensions. Install liner, install airlock door. Pressurize.

  50. Quote”Repairing the robots that do it will be a part time job for someone.”

    And just why won’t robots repair robots?

  51. There is no TBM capable of mining a tunnel large enough for transport, that can mine 300m a day, on a consistent schedule. That’s almost 1000’per day (sorry I deal in feet)
    On an average shift of 8 hours, you may hit a 40′ average with a diameter of say 22′. 40′ is even a goal you wouldn’t be able to sustain for much more than maybe 5 days. These machines require a large amount of maintenance on a daily basis, and you have to account for changing rock conditions
    In other words, it ain’t gonna happen, no matter how much $$ Musk tosses into it

  52. I have no preference for exposed domes or underground lairs, except whatever makes sense to make long term life safer.

    Tunnels seem to be the safer option against radiation and atmospheric leaks, but I’d wager people will want observation domes and sun-lit gardens as well.

    Even if it’s only to recall they are in another planet by peering through the window. Also passing all the time confined within 4 walls would be unbearable for many.

  53. As silly as building reusable rockets, or cars that drive themselves and yet they are coming.

    We live in a world of silliness and implausibilities as per the impressions of past ages’ inhabitants, until these things became plausible and commonplace.

  54. well… I guess underground cities wouldn´t be so different from ecumenopolis cities like Trantor or like Spacer’s Era New York,

    Nor so different from many space habitats, like an O’Neill Cylinder.

  55. ” Big domes growing food in diffuse sunlight that would be obscured by dust. ” <– Nope, not so it would matter.

    ” Dome-de-duster would be a full time job. ” <– Repairing the robots that do it will be a part time job for someone.

    ” Hell the Genesis cave from Star Trek 2 is the most realistic depiction of life on the Moon that you will find. ” <– To the limited extent you aren’t make a ludicrous exxageration, so what ?

  56. So it hasn’t occurred to you, yes there will be domes on Mars. People will be in them frequently. The lie is what you sold yourself.

  57. Yep. They have their eyes set on disrupting land transportation and underground building as much as space launchers.

    The tunnel building sector has entered a complacency similar to that of government space agencies. With expected and predictable high prices and very little incentive to innovate.

    Anyone disrupting this stasis of cost per mile will eat their cake.

  58. Underground is desirable. Those domes are depicted as massive mile-long structures that will take probably centuries to build off-world.
    Tunneling out large underground caverns[or even taking up residence in existing ones] allows for more leg room.

  59. i agree with this point on earth… at some point parking spots or other massive infrastructure doesnt need to be above ground freeing up space for many other things ..certainly can make the urban environment more attractive too.. but living a majority of time underground? no thanks.. im way too claustrophobic for that

  60. Who writes this crap ?
    Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) for the last 50 years have been electrically powered.
    Sure a TBM can excavate hundreds of meters of tunnel a day the problem is with supporting the newly bored tunnel this is what takes the time.
    Musk is not inventing anything new here people!
    Bxxxxxxxt baffles brains…. and the investors.

  61. you can’t live underground on earth because gravity is to high. Its much easier in Mars and Moon, where you can build huge caves multiple times larger without getting crushed.

  62. We should not live underground. We are not rats nor Chinese people who think that it is a good idea to move everyone to mega cities in order to increase productivity. We need a lot of trees and open space to connect with the natural world, but we can move transportation, storage and highly automated work space underground to relieve congestion and open more natural space and sunlight.

  63. If each 3rd gen robo-mole can dig 300m/day, it makes 100km/year. 40 robo-moles could dig a 4,000km tunnel from LA to NY in a year. If Boring Company gets to own/operate the tunnels and assuming they have sufficient funding, in a couple of years they could control the infrastructure to move most of long-distance land logistics on their electric sleds. It’s beyond bold (borderline crazy), but the more I think of it the more it makes sense.

  64. I would like to purchase the tunneling rights of every major city now. Will be gold in the future. You could put capsule housing along even his small tunnels with a little walkway. Boring city. Everything is small and tight but could be very affordable when the machines own all the surface.

  65. Once he has that third gen proven then there are a number of specialty projects that become possible. He needs to technically demonstrate that he can safely (as in what the safety officials will accept) move electric cars and people in these smaller tunnels. He also needs to show he can create these solutions at 1/10th the cost and 10x faster than the standard solution. This will pave way for mass acceptance vs just being a specialty project competitor. Another application may be underground parking elevators/facilities to complement his electric car mover.

  66. Let’s not forget that there would be energy/long term operating benefits as well as you’d no longer need HVAC. Dig to the correct depth and you’ve got a comfortable and steady temperature year round. Here in FL you only need to go ~6′ down to get steady 72f temperatures.

  67. Science fiction has seen this for a while. Greg Bear’s “Moving Mars” has the Earthlings calling Martians “red rabbits”.

    Because of their burrow homes and as a mockery of their natalist settler/frontier philosophy.

  68. I still think that the Boring Company’s target market should be making fast logistics access for truck trailers to get them off freeways and to move goods more quickly (seeing how people will absolutely pay for this because it offers a concrete ROI).

  69. Or hydrogen storage or underground electric transmission.

    The Boring Company drilling cost claims put them on par with the lowest cost geologic storage options for hydrogen. Put a reversible fuel cell on top and you have $20/kWh electricity storage anywhere in the world. 80% less than projected battery costs.

    Underground electric transmission lines are $100M-$1B/mile. Cheap tunnel plus vacuum for dielectric means maybe under $20M/mile. More expensive than overhead, but actually possible to build in urban areas.

  70. Moving civilization slightly towards the Ecumenopolis.

    Cities are desirable (housing market says so), but cities have finite 2D space. Ergo you need to either grow upwards or downwards. Upwards growth has been tried since a long time ago and now has many enemies (NIMBYs and the “OMG, so much brutalist architecture obscuring the landscape!” crowd), do everything below the surface then.

    If the price of boring a tunnel is right, a lot of the urban transport infrastructure and buildings could move underground and still keep green areas and forests above.

  71. “Was there any doubt?”

    And yet look at all the PPT art for living on Mars. Big domes growing food in diffuse sunlight that would be obscured by dust.

    Dome-de-duster would be a full time job.

    Hell the Genesis cave from Star Trek 2 is the most realistic depiction of life on the Moon that you will find.

  72. Slowly but surely it is dawning on everyone that you are going to live underground on Mars. All the PPTs with domes are lying to you.

  73. wait, isn´t The Boring Company’s main innovation EXACTLY the fact they make NARROW tunnels?

    it has advantages, but it also has some disadvantages, as the impossibility of using it for normal car driving, or big trains, or like this article suggests, big underground cities.

    if this is wrong, please, provide me some source about the advantages of Boring Machines vs traditional tunneling machines, not in meters per day, but in total VOLUME of earth removed/displaced by the same amount of time.

  74. “…underground facilities could be attacked by digging machines…”

    Will the digging machine carry mandalorian assassin droids or bounty hunters?

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