On Sunday, SpaceX will kick off its second hyperloop pod competition — and we’ll be there to cover all the drama, exhilaration, and high-speed heartbreak. The event, which will be held near SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California headquarters, will feature dozens of university-affiliated teams (including one high school team and one formed on Reddit) racing their hyperloop pods on Elon Musk’s personal track.
The event serves as a sequel to SpaceX’s first hyperloop competition held one year ago at Texas A&M University, where hundreds of engineering students from all over the world gathered to present their designs for the ultra-fast, ultra-fantastical transportation system.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology's team walked away with the top prize, with Delft University of Technology from the Netherlands and Auburn University as runners-up; 30 other teams nabbed awards in design, technology, and innovation.
But this weekend’s contest in California will prove to be the true test, both for these teams’ designs and for the hyperloop as a whole. The teams will present their fully functional, but-not-to-scale models of their pods to test on SpaceX’s one-mile track. While none of the pods will get up to the hyperloop’s theoretical full speed of 760 mph, the shot of adrenaline to the burgeoning hyperloop movement should be huge.
There will be a second installment of the competition later this summer focused on speed. If the first competition was like an amped-up science fair, this second contest should be like a soap box derby on speed. “Hyperloop Competition II will be focused on a single criterion: maximum speed,” SpaceX states on its website.
So what will these pods look like? Delft says its carbon fiber pod is around 15 feet long and weighs around 320 pounds. “Using permanent magnets the Delft pod floats above the track, resulting in very little energy usage,” the university says. “The team expects that the prototype should be able to reach a speed of over 200 kilometres per hour [124 mph] in the 1.2 kilometer [three-fourths of a mile] long test tube during the finals. In a longer tube, the Delft prototype would be able to speed up to 1,200 kilometers per hour [745 mph].”
SpaceX is not affiliated with any of the startups currently working to build a real hyperloop, but the super-fast transportation system is still close to Musk’s heart. In 2013, Musk published his "alpha paper" which theorized that aerodynamic aluminum capsules filled with passengers or cargo could be propelled through nearly airless tubes at a velocity close to the speed of sound. He called it a "fifth mode of transportation" and argued it could help change the way we live, work, trade, and travel.
The most famous scenario he proposed was a trip from LA to San Francisco only taking 30 minutes. Predictably, the idea captured the imaginations of engineers and investors across the world. Two companies, both based in LA, are actively engaged in building their own hyperloops. Musk is now talking about digging tunnels under LA as a way to bypass traffic, though its unclear how serious he is about it.
Also unclear is whether Musk will show up at the hyperloop contest this weekend. He wasn’t scheduled to show up at the first competition in Texas, but ultimately graced the stage to rapturous applause from everyone in attendance. He could very well make an appearance this Sunday, if only to fire the starter pistol to get the high-speed race underway.