Elon Musk's SpaceX has selected Aecom, one of the world's largest construction and design firms, to build its Hyperloop test track later this year, the company announced Tuesday.
LA-based Aecom is a Fortune 500 company with about 100,000 employees across the globe and reported earnings of over $18 billion during the 12 months that ended September 2015. The firm has helped construct hospitals, stadiums, bridges, transit networks, schools, and offshore gas terminals. Notable projects include Brooklyn's Barclays Center arena, the Crossrail tunnel being built under London, and the Alameda Corridor freight rail expressway in Southern California.
Aecom is in the business of building infrastructure; Hyperloop aspires to be the infrastructure of the future. In helping design and construct SpaceX's Hyperloop test track, Aecom is lending Musk's far-out, futuristic pipe dream some significant, real-world expertise that could help achieve that goal.
Big-time thumbs up for the Hyperloop
"Aecom has designed and built some of the world's most impressive transportation systems, so we appreciate how the development of a functioning Hyperloop with SpaceX can dramatically expand the ways people move across cities, countries, and continents," said Michael Burke, Aecom chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement.
The nearly one-mile-long test track will be built adjacent to SpaceX's Hawthorne, California, headquarters. A spokesperson would not disclose the cost of the project, but Aecom provided a few other details:
The test track's six-foot diameter steel tube will include a non-magnetic sub-track and run nearly one mile adjacent to SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. Cradled in place above ground, it will serve as a vacuum-sealed, high-speed proving ground for transport pod prototypes being developed as part of a SpaceX design competition.
The design competition, which will be held on January 28th and 29th at Texas A&M University, will pit thousands of student engineers against each other in a race to build a pod capable of traveling at subsonic speeds through a nearly airless tube. The winner will get a chance to build a life-sized version of their model and race it on the Aecom-constructed test track this summer.
In his original 2013 white paper, Musk envisioned passenger- or cargo-filled pods traveling through these tubes at 760 mph, which could reduce the trip between San Francisco and LA to 30 minutes. The concept was thrilling, and helped build a lot of buzz, but also faces significant structural, legal, and financial hurdles before it can become a reality.
Helping to build SpaceX's test track won't be Aecom's first foray into the Hyperloop wormhole. The company is also in talks with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, one of the two LA-based startups racing to build the world's first working prototype.
The other startup, Hyperloop Tech, is sponsoring SpaceX's design competition, which includes a $150,000 commitment in prize money for the winners. Each startup is also working on their own test tracks.
But Aecom isn't ready to fully commit to any one Hyperloop company. "Multiple groups are involved in Hyperloop development efforts, and AECOM has not endorsed or validated any technology or approach," the company says.
Correction: It was previously reported that Aecom would exchange construction advice for stock options with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, but the firm says there will be no stock exchanged.