UK Markets closed

Elon Musk's next Hyperloop test will aim for half the speed of sound

Catherine Clifford

Billionaire tech titan Elon Musk has teased a dramatic upcoming test of his Hyperloop transportation pod.

The Hyperloop initiative, publicized on the websites of both Musk's electric vehicle car company, Tesla and his aerospace company, SpaceX, is working to make possible ultra high-speed transportation via pods traveling through vacuum tubes.

Musk tweeted Saturday that a test was coming "soon," which would try to get the pod to reach half the speed of sound — and come to a full stop — within 1.2 kilometers, or about three quarters of a mile.

The speed of sound is a complicated calculation that depends on several factors. But in an August Instagram post announcing that a SpaceX/Tesla Hyperloop pod made it to 355 kilometers per hour (220 miles per hour), Musk said a few updates could get the pod to half of the speed of sound, which he estimated at past 500 kilometers per hour (or about 311 miles per hour).

Musk says the upcoming test will be with an "upgraded" Hyperloop pod. However, getting it to that speed in under a mile will still push the limits of the system and could result in the Hyperloop pod disintegrating into "shredded metal," says Musk.

The billionaire first broached the idea of building a Hyperloop for transportation in 2013. He suggested the Hyperloop as an alternative method of travel between cities that are too far apart for an easy drive but not far enough apart to make flying efficient.

"The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km or 900 miles apart. Around that inflection point, I suspect that supersonic air travel ends up being faster and cheaper," says Musk in a post he published unveiling his white paper for the Hyperloop. "However, for a sub several hundred mile journey, having a supersonic plane is rather pointless, as you would spend almost all your time slowly ascending and descending and very little time at cruise speed."

Musk has hosted two Hyperloop competitions where student teams from around the world build pods. In the most recent competition, held at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, in August, a team of 30 German students won with a pod that reached more than 200 miles per hour. The group, called the WARR Hyperloop, was made up of students from the Technical University of Munich.

See also:

  • Elon Musk shares epic video of Hyperloop competition winners' pod flying at over 200 mph
  • Elon Musk: 'Robots will be able to do everything better than us'
  • There's one thing that motivates Elon Musk above all else

Like this story? Like CNBC Make It on Facebook