The area where bluShift tests rocket engines at Brunswick Landing. Taylor Abbott / The Forecaster

BRUNSWICK — A local aerospace company will be able to launch its rocket-building business into high gear after receiving a $125,000 grant from NASA.

The Phase 1 Small Business Innovation fund grant will allow bluShift Aerospace to begin developing a hybrid rocket engine that will use a combination of liquid and solid fuels. The process reduces complexity, weight and costs, according to a June 21 press release from Seth Lockman, communications director at bluShift.

The company manufactures bio-derived fuel for the rockets now being developed at Brunswick Landing. The rockets will evenually launch small satellites into space.

The fuel is made from organic materials – in what CEO Sascha Deri described as a “secret sauce” – sourced from farms. It is safe enough, he said, that his children could eat it without any adverse effects.

The fuel also reduces the environmental impact expected from traditional rocket fuels, he said.

The grant “means so much for us,” Deri said June 21. “This means we can finally hire full-time people and we can move more quickly with development of the rocket engine and, in turn, the development of our rocket. And this really adds credibility to rocket technology that we’ve been working on and will hopefully lead to more funding and investors.” 

The company is self-funded, with help from grants awarded by the Maine Technology Institute. The NASA grant, according to the press release, came at a time when bluShift was looking to produce a working rocket prototype.

Deri said the grant is about five times larger than the MTI grant, and bluShift Aerospace was the only Maine company to receive one.

“This is an incredible opportunity to develop high tech here in my home state, diversify Maine’s economy and keep more of our bright young tech people here in Maine in the future,” he said.

Over the years, Deri noted, many college graduates have left Maine to find employment, including one of his own employees.

“Graduates get all the good education and then go somewhere else,” Deri said. “Luckily, (the employee) will be moving back to Maine as a result of this grant. He has been working as an engineer for almost a decade and will finally be able to come back home once we are able to get the grant.”

Deri began his career in Massachusetts at a solar energy company after earning a degree from the University of Southern Maine. In 2016, he moved bluShift Aerospace to a remote spot at Brunswick Landing.

His eight-person team has already begun preparing for the grant by preparing test software. Work funded by the grant will not officially start until August or September.

“It’s a double-edged sword, because we want to get a jump start before it officially starts, but we’re restricted because we need that grant to purchase many of the supplies,” Deri said. “We’ve definitely started working, and we will continue to apply for more grants and funding.”

The company has a six-month agreement with NASA, but if it goes well, it can then apply for a second phase of the grant, which can provide up to $750,000.

“We are very excited about this opportunity,” Deri said. “We’ve already started hustling and preparing as much as we can. There are so many of us that are passionate about aerospace and passionate about doing it in Maine. This is just awesome.”

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