Virgin Group has announced a significant strategic investment in Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One that will see the startup rebrand itself as Virgin Hyperloop One in the coming months.
The amount Virgin has invested has not been disclosed, though the startup is believed to have raised more than $226 million since its founding in 2014, according to Crunchbase.
Virgin founder Richard Branson will be joining the startup’s board of directors, and the strategic partnership will focus on passenger and mixed-use cargo services.
Founded by Shervin Pishevar and Josh Giegel, and led by Rob Lloyd, Hyperloop One is one of several firms looking to prove that Elon Musk’s vision for a rapid mass transport system with top speeds of 760mph can come to fruition. The Tesla and Space X founder had released a design for the system in a 2013 paper, called Hyperloop Alpha [PDF], detailing a maglev system that would operate in a near-vacuum environment.
Hyperloop One claims to be the only company in the world to have built a fully operational Hyperloop system.
Co-founder and executive chairman Pishevar said Hyperloop One’s new alliance with Virgin “feels like a natural fit”, and that having Branson as an ally will help the startup’s mission to expand its Hyperloop system around the world.
“The combination of our proven technology and Virgin’s expertise in transportation, operations, safety, and passenger experience will accelerate the commercialisation phase of our company’s development,” added Giegal, co-founder and president of engineering at Hyperloop One.
“Together with Virgin, we will not only transform how we live, we will rethink how it feels to travel by creating a passenger experience that people will enjoy and look forward to riding.
“Our goal is to make travel fun again.”
Branson said he is convinced the startup’s “groundbreaking technology will change transportation as we know it and dramatically cut journey times”.
After passengers and cargo are loaded into a pod, Hyperloop One’s system accelerates gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube.
The pod lifts above the track using magnetic levitation and travels at “airline speeds” for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag.
“Hyperloop One’s radically efficient and clean, all-electric technology is aligned with the Virgin Group’s purpose-driven mission to deliver more sustainable modes of transportation,” the startup said in an announcement.
Following a successful test at its Nevada test track “DevLoop” earlier this year, Hyperloop One said it is seeing increasing demand from governments and the private sector worldwide with projects underway in the United Arab Emirates, United States, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, and India.
In June, Dutch startup Hardt Global Mobility unveiled Europe’s first Hyperloop test facility in Delft in the Netherlands’ west. The test facility is 30 metres long and has a cross-section of three meters, which can support tests on a full-scale Hyperloop pod at low speeds.
Built with the global construction company BAM, and with investments and support from the Dutch infrastructure and environment ministry, the Delft University of Technology, and national train company NS, Hardt will operate the test facility to develop its own Hyperloop transportation system.
While the test facility’s overall structure has been completed, Hardt will continue installing hardware that will enable it to test the system’s magnetic levitation and vacuum capabilities. The company aims to build a high-speed test facility in 2019, according to Hardt co-founder Tim Houter.
Virgin Galactic, which was founded by Branson as the world’s first commercial spaceline and operates under Galactic ventures, said earlier this year that it was on track to begin commercial passenger spaceflights before the end of 2018.
One of its spaceships was involved in a fatal crash in October 2014, after which an investigation by the US National Transportation Safety Board found that the pilot had unlocked the spaceship’s “feather system” prematurely resulting in the vehicle breaking apart mid-air.
Engine testing for the company’s new vehicle, Spaceship Unity, is complete, and Galactic Ventures subsidiary The Spaceship Company is amidst building two more spaceships.
Galactic Ventures had also announced launching a new commercial space company, Virgin Orbit, featuring its LauncherOne Small Satellite Launch Service.
Australian-listed telecommunications company Sky and Space Global announced in June last year that it had signed a letter of intent with Virgin Galactic to use its vehicle LauncherOne to launch up to 200 nano-satellites into space from 2018.
Sky and Space said at the time that using Virgin’s LauncherOne will provide significant cost savings, as several satellites can be launched at once, in addition to flexibility in terms of launch timelines and orbital parameters.
A few months later, Sky and Space entered into a binding agreement with Virgin Galactic, officially purchasing four dedicated missions to use its vehicle LauncherOne to launch the nano-satellites into space.
At the time, the company said the four missions will carry several nano-satellites, allowing it to deploy most of its “full constellation” from 2018, with the aim of being done by 2020.
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