Space and Energy Roundup

1. Alan Boyle at msnbc reports that the IEC fusion project is still in limbo awaiting a review of their results and for word on follow up funding.

[EMC2 Fusion] is waiting for guidance from a peer-review panel and his funders on whether to proceed to the second phase.

“We’ve been pretty busy, but it’s the same situation,” Nebel told me today. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern.”

He’s been able to keep the five-person team together and “doing a few things” during this holding pattern. There have been some rumblings to the effect that EMC2’s results have been encouraging enough to justify pressing forward, but Nebel has declined to make a prediction about the project’s future.

Nebel worries about the same kind of budget limbo that the U.S. ITER team is worrying about, even though his budget is an order of magnitude lower. Among the factors on his mind are the change in the White House and the changes in economic circumstances.

“The thing that usually gets hit the hardest is what they call discretionary funding,” Nebel said, “and that’s what we’re looking at here. That’d be the biggest fear everywhere.”

2. Elon Musk and Spacex are confident again after their first successful orbital rocket launch.

Under a $278 million contract with NASA, Space Exploration Technologies, known as SpaceX, plans to launch a far more powerful booster by mid-2009. By designing the new Falcon 9 to be reusable, Musk hopes to make space travel far cheaper, and secure a permanent gig taxiing supplies to the International Space Station.

If SpaceX can achieve its ambitions of slashing the cost to reach space by a factor of 10, “it would be recognized as one of the pivotal events in human history, in the history of life itself,” Musk said. “It would make it possible to colonize Mars, to make life multi-planetary. In the absence of a reusable launch vehicle, that’s not going to happen.”

Elon Musk has stated that one of his goals is to improve the cost and reliability of access to space, ultimately by a factor of ten. Ultimately, I believe $500 per pound ($1,100/kg) or less is very achievable.”

3. Venture beat reports that NASA’s problems with the Shuttle and its other programs are forcing a greater dependence on the private space companies.

NASA has earmarked $500 million for contracts with firms like Orbital and SpaceX to deliver and return cargo, and eventually even crew members.

NASA has the potential to be a stable buttress for many private firms — buying data, licensing designs and transporting payloads via commercial contracts. Not to mention pumping reliable streams of revenue into the ind This won’t just help the private players. It might just be the key ingredient needed to give NASA a competitive edge over its international peers — not only China, but an ever-expanding space community.

SpaceX, Bigelow Aerospace and XCOR Aerospace are hard at work developing the technology that could lead to commercial manned spaceflight in the not too distant future. Small Texas company Armadillo Aerospace is building reusable-rocket powered vehicles with an eye toward eventual passengered voyages. And Blue Origin, an even smaller startup funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has already flown its New Shephard spacecraft, designed for sub-orbital transport. They hope to be marketing it to tourists within the next two years.

4. This weekend, Oct 24-25, is the lunar lander challenge.

Armadillo Aerospace lander

Two teams are expected to fly during the competition: Armadillo Aerospace and TrueZer0.

The Competition is divided into two levels. Level 1 requires a rocket to take off from a designated launch area, rocket up to 150 feet (50 meters) altitude, then hover for 90 seconds while landing precisely on a landing pad 50 meters away. The flight must then be repeated in reverse—and both flights, along with all of the necessary preparation for each, must take place within a two and a half hour period.

The more difficult course, Level 2, requires the rocket to hover for twice as long before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface, packed with craters and boulders to mimic actual lunar terrain. The hover times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform a real lunar mission.

In the 2007 competition, held as part of the X PRIZE Cup, there were nine competitors total. However, despite the best efforts of all of the teams, only one of them, Armadillo Aerospace, was ready to fly. They missed winning Level 1 by 7 seconds.

Team name: Armadillo Aerospace
Vehicle name(s): MOD & QUAD (PIXEL)
Team leader: John Carmack
Team members:James Bauer, Tommy Bishop, Russ Blink, Phil Eaton, Joseph Lagrave, Neil Milburn, and Matthew Ross
Fuel: LOX, Ethanol and Helium
Level(2): One and Two
Vehicle Weight: 1340lbs and 2250lbs, respectively
Thrust: ~1800lbs and 3000lbs, respectively

Team name: TrueZer0
Vehicle name(s): Ignignokt
Team leader: Todd Squires and Scott Zeeb
Team members: George Johnson, Todd Squires, Scott Zeeb, Josh Johnson(left to right)
Fuel: H2O2 and N2
Level(2): One
Vehicle Weight: 475lbs
Thrust: 650lbs

5. Blacklight Power has an independent university study confirming its 50KW reactor