Image of bluShift CEO, Sascha Deri, at the Stardust 1.0 launch site in Limestone, Maine. Betta Stothart, courtesy of bluShift Aerospace

LIMESTONE — Despite frigid weather and early technical difficulties, Brunswick’s bluShift Aerospace Inc., made history Sunday afternoon when it launched its prototype rocket, Stardust 1.0.

The company became the first in Maine to launch a commercial rocket and the first in the world to launch a commercial rocket using bio-derived fuel.

The rocket launched from the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone around 3 p.m. It carried three payloads, two commercial and one, free of charge, courtesy of Falmouth High School. A payload typically consists of satellites, experiments or other objects that customers pay to launch into orbit.

The two commercial payloads were owned by Kellogg Research Lab, and Rocket Insights — which included stroopwafel in their load.

“The purpose of this particular launch is to be a prototype demonstration model,” bluShift CEO Sascha Deri said. While many companies are in the stage of developing rockets, Sunday’s demonstration was primarily aimed to show investors bluShift’s capability to actually launch their rocket, he said.

Stardust 1.0 is roughly 20 feet tall and 14 inches in diameter. Initial data indicated the rocket reached an altitude of just under 5,000 feet.

The rocket and payloads returned to the ground under a parachute shortly after launch and were retrieved by a team of snowmobilers. The rocket is intended to be reusable and environmentally friendly.

Deri said the main valve, the ignitor and cloud coverage were to blame for a launch delay early in the day. Once the rocket got off the ground, however, “it went perfectly.”

“It landed right where we were hoping for and planning for,” he said. “We believe we could fully reuse this rocket.”

While the components of the biofuel are a company secret, Deri said the fuel is solid, non-toxic and carbon neutral. “I can tell you this much, I discovered it with a friend of mine on my brothers farm here in Maine,” he said. Deri also said that the fuel could be sourced from anywhere in the world and that it is significantly cheaper than traditional rocket fuel.

The company describes its business model as the Uber of space, where it will target a specific customer who wishes to send a payload into a particular orbit.

“We are targeting people that want to go to a specific orbit, they want to have control of their launches, they want to be the primary payload even though their payload is very small,” Deri said.

Deri said bluShift plans on “taking advantage of the fact that Maine has a southern-facing coastline that allows us to easily access polar orbit, or launch into polar orbit, directly due south of the oceans.”

The launch Sunday comes after a planned launch on Jan. 15 was called off due to weather.

“It turns out launching rockets is complicated, apparently it’s rocket science,” Deri said.

“We did learn a lot from that failed launch, we learned, first and foremost, that you can’t rely upon weather websites, you really need to use a professional meteorologist.”

The second time around, bluShift worked closely with meteorologist Russ Murley to confirm weather conditions Sunday.

Stardust 1.0 returning to Earth on Jan. 31, 2021.  Betta Stothart, courtesy bluShift Aerospace

“Coordinating all of these things is an incredible dance, but really a dance we want to do, because we really want this event to be an inspiration to the whole state of Maine, and really to be a call out to beyond our borders, beyond the state of Maine, to let people know that Maine is open for aerospace,” Deri said.

What is the next step for bluShift Aerospace?

“By the end of this year we hope to … launch Stardust 2.0. There is a very decent chance that this will be our first time to touch space,” said Deri in a press conference Sunday afternoon.

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