bluShift’s Chief Technology Officer David Hayrikyan, at left, Aerospace Structural Engineer Alex Morrow, Senior Mechanical Engineer Luke Saindo and Lead Propulsion Test Engineer Gerard Desjardins in front of the full-scale MAREVL’s combustion chamber just before moving it into position in the static fire test stand. Contributed / bluShift Aerospace, KNACK FACTORY

A plume of flame lit Brunswick’s night sky March 1, while the unmistakable roar of a rocket engine blasted through the town’s TechPlace.

The 5 seconds of heat and light marked the first successful test of bluShift Aerospace’s environmentally-friendly MARVEL 2.0 rocket engine, according to the Brunswick startup. The company, which plans to carry research payloads and small satellites sub orbitally and into low orbit, expects to begin launching commercially from Maine’s coast within a year.

“I’m still shaking, and my heart is pounding a thousand beats per second,” founder and CEO Sascha Deri said in a news release. “But wow – this test was exactly what we were hoping for.”

As a child in Maine in the ’70s, Deri grew up gazing at the Milky Way, drawing imaginary flying machines and dreaming about the future of space travel. But while the nation largely turned its attention away from space exploration, Deri struggled to make use of his two engineering degrees in his home state and left to build a successful green energy company in Massachusetts.

BluShift CEO Sascha Deri founded altE Store, a renewable energy system distribution company, before turning back to the subject that fascinated him as a child. “I’ve always had that passion for space and sort of a curiosity for the universe,” he said. Contributed / bluShift Aerospace, KNACK FACTORY

In 2014, he turned his attention back to the stars and to the economic opportunity promised by Maine’s fledgling space industry. In particular, Deri and his new company set their sights on small satellites that are responsible for broadband communications and global imaging.

“There’s like a $20 billion market – not for the whole industry, not for everything that has to do with those tiny satellites – just to launch those tiny satellites into space,” Deri said. “And half of the market is to put these tiny satellites into a very specific orbit that we can only do here in Maine.”


Maine’s coast is the only location on the Eastern Seaboard where companies can launch objects into a polar orbit, meaning a path that runs north to south over the poles instead of east to west, according to Deri. This is because safety concerns and regulators require that rockets launch south over the ocean instead of populated areas.

The company has not yet determined a launch site, as resistance from residents recently scuttled a plan to launch from Jonesport. Yet Deri’s team remains optimistic that another viable town will welcome blueShift’s eco-friendly rockets.

BluShift stands out from its competitors through the use of a bio-derived, nontoxic solid fuel. Deri said he discovered the fuel, which, he claims, has nearly no carbon footprint, while visiting his brother’s North Yarmouth farm.

“I think any engineer working in the 21st century wants to make sure that what they’re doing isn’t contributing to the problem, but is mitigating it,” said Chief Technology Officer David Hayrikyan. “It makes it feel really good to do your day job knowing that you’re not making things worse for the future.”

From left, bluShift engineers Luke Saindon, Alex Morrow and Gerard Desjardins with bluShift Aerospaces’ first-ever rocket engine in the foreground, and bluShift’s latest rocket engine in the background. Both are designed for static fire testing, to gather data on engine performance instead of powering a rocket in flight. Contributed / bluShift Aerospace

Rockets might seem like a strange fit for a state known more for fishing and agriculture than technology. But according to Hayrikyan, bluShift’s tiny team of engineers is a perfect fit for Maine’s can-do ethos.

“The cold doesn’t stop you, the snow doesn’t stop you, technical hurdles don’t stop you,” Hayrikyan said. “You find a way. It’s a cool attitude that I don’t think I’ve encountered in any other community that I’ve worked.”


While Maine’s geography offers attractive features for bluShift and other aerospace companies, space could provide an economic boon for the state, according to Terry Shehata, executive director of Maine Space Grant Consortium.

A strong space economy could make it easier for young Mainers to build careers in the state, just as Deri unsuccessfully tried to in the ’90s, said Shehata, whose organization is part of a national network funded by NASA.

“By really pushing the state’s involvement in the new space economy, you’re creating that opportunity,” Shehata said. “You’re creating that excitement, that vision that would attract not only businesses and entrepreneurs to come into Maine, but also to give a reason for our graduates to stay here in Maine and make a life out of it instead of going outside.”

Following the success of the 5-second burn March 1, the bluShift team will conduct 12 to 24 tests over the next year, working up to an approximately 90-second burn, Deri said. Should all go well, the team will aim to launch its rocket, Starless Rogue, on its first commercial flight within a year.

“We want to be again making history as the first company to now not only launch a rocket using bio-derived fuel,” said Deri, “but launch it all the way to space.”

Comments are not available on this story.