VirginVirgin Hyperloop announced that for the first time it has conducted a test of its ultra-fast transportation system with human passengers.
The test took place on Sunday afternoon at the company’s DevLoop test track in the desert outside Las Vegas, Nevada. The first two passengers were Virgin Hyperloop’s chief technology officer and co-founder, Josh Giegel, and head of passenger experience, Sara Luchian. After strapping into their seats in the company’s gleaming white and red hyperloop pod, dubbed Pegasus, they were transferred into an airlock as the air inside the enclosed vacuum tube was removed. The pod then accelerated to a brisk 100 miles per hour (160 km/h) down the length of the track, before slowing down to a stop.
It’s an important achievement for Virgin Hyperloop, which was founded in 2014 on the premise of making Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s vision of a futuristic transportation system of magnetically levitating pods traveling through nearly airless tubes at speeds of up to 760 mph (1,223 km/h) a reality.
The DevLoop test track is 500 meters long and 3.3 meters in diameter. The track is located about 30 minutes from Las Vegas, out in the kind of desert that hyperloop pods could one day traverse in minutes. The company says it has conducted over 400 tests on that track, but never before with human passengers — until today.
“No one has done anything close to what we’re talking about right now,” Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop, told The Verge. “This is a full scale, working hyperloop that is not just going to run in a vacuum environment, but is going to have a person in it. No one has come close to doing it.”
The Pegasus pod used for the first passenger test, also called XP-2, was designed with help from famed Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’ design firm. It represents a scaled-down version of what Virgin Hyperloop hopes will eventually be a full-sized pod capable of carrying up to 23 passengers. It weighs 2.5 tons and measures about 15-18 feet long, according to Giegel. Inside, its lush white interior is meant to be familiar to passengers, who may not be immediately comfortable with the idea of slingshotting through a vacuum-sealed tube at the speed of a commercial jet.
“This is not like some crazy, newfangled science fiction invention,” Luchian said in an interview several days before the test. “This is something that reminds me of a place that I’ve been and I’ve used many times, that I would feel comfortable putting grandma in and sending her on a visit somewhere.”
““This is not like some crazy, newfangled science fiction invention.””
Prior to the test, Luchian said she was eager to experience the acceleration, as well as monitor the temperature inside the pod and the ventilation system. Giegel said he wanted to see the system’s safety procedures in action, and would be keeping track of whether they’re able to maintain communication with operators during the test. “If it’s not safe enough for me, it’s not safe enough for anyone,” he said.
Giegel said the acceleration will feel similar to a plane taking off. The pod is propelled by magnetic levitation — the same technology used for bullet trains. The top speed of the fastest commercial bullet train, the Shanghai Maglev, hovers around 300 mph.
To be sure, the pod didn’t reach the hyperloop’s theoretical maximum speed of 760 mph. Virgin Hyperloop projects that with enough track it can eventually get up to 670 mph — but the company’s record to date is 240 mph, which it hit in 2017.
“It’ll be a bit short,” Giegel said before the test. “We’ll get up to probably about 100 miles an hour, a little over, and we’ll accelerate, decelerate, and it’ll be smooth. We’re not astronauts, we’re just there — we’re sitting in it.”