Hyperloop: First human test takes passengers over 100mph © Virgin Hyperloop

Hyperloop: First human test takes passengers over 100mph

A pod carrying two passengers sped around a 500-metre track in just 15 seconds.

Two people have become the first passengers on a Hyperloop, a technology considered to be the future of high-speed ground transport.

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The demonstration and test took place on a 500-metre track in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas on Sunday. Magnets inside the Hyperloop tube enabled ‘vacuum-like’ suction, with the passengers completing the track in just 15 seconds and accelerating to a speed over 160km/h (100mph).

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Though the end goal is to create a vehicle capable of carrying as many as 28 passengers at speeds of up to 1,070km/h (670mph), the first passenger test was conducted with a purpose-built 2-seater XP-2 pod.

“I can’t tell you how often I get asked ‘Is Hyperloop safe?’” said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop.

“With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment, but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety.”

The passengers inside the pod were CTO and co-founder of Virgin Hyperloop, Josh Giegel, and the director of passenger experience, Sara Luchian.

The technology uses electric propulsion, with passive magnetic levitation creating low pressure within the tube which is in near-vacuum conditions.

Although Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, came up with the concept for Hyperloop, he open-sourced the technology to allow other firms to develop the idea. In his paper written in 2013, Musk described the system as ‘a cross between Concorde, a rail gun and an air hockey table’.

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“Hyperloop is about so much more than the technology. It’s about what it enables,” said Luchian. “To me, the passenger experience ties it all together. And what better way to design the future than to actually experience it first-hand?”

Reader Q&A: Will it ever be possible to build a space elevator?

Asked by: Max Jones, New York

First proposed over a century ago by the Russian astronautical pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the space elevator offers a whole new way of getting into orbit. Instead of using rockets, electric lifts travel up a cable anchored at the Earth’s equator and extending up to an orbiting counterweight whose motion keeps the cable taut.

But while simple in concept, the practicalities are immense. Chief among them is the need for a cable material that’s capable of withstanding the colossal tension.

It’s long been thought that carbon nanotubes would be up to the job, but new research by a team at Hong Kong Polytechnic University has shown that a single misplaced atom in the cable could radically undermine its strength.

With no real prospect of creating a defect-free cable, the search is now on for more robust materials.

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