Flames from bluShift Aerospace’s final engine test of 2022 lit Brunswick Executive Airport shortly after 3:30 p.m. Friday. Contributed image / bluShift Aerospace

Maine could soon become a gateway to the stars, thanks to Brunswick startup bluShift Aerospace, which hopes to launch its reusable, eco-friendly rockets from the Downeast town of Steuben. Before the company can finalize the maiden voyage of the “Starless Rogue” late next year, it must clear a number of hurdles – including actually building the rocket.

On Friday afternoon, bluShift took another step toward the heavens with its latest successful engine test, which sent a plume of flames and an awesome rumble ringing across the runway of Brunswick Executive Airport.

The show lasted just 22 seconds, but as founder and CEO Sascha Deri explained, Friday’s test was the result of weeks of methodical planning and effort.

2.5  weeks before test day: cold flow test

Long before the fireworks of a live engine test, the bluShift team must first ensure its test stand is in working order by running compressed gasses through the system. Engineers then spend weeks fixing any leaks revealed during the “cold flow test” while programmers correct problems with bluShift’s data collection software.

The team has plenty of practice with this process after more than 200 engine tests, but Deri said it can still be hectic. As of 7:30 p.m. Thursday evening, bluShift employees were still working by lamplight to put the finishing touches on the system before Friday afternoon’s pivotal test.


For bluShift’s final ignition of 2022, Deri hoped to burn the engine for 20 seconds, the company’s longest ever and a “major milestone” toward the 80 seconds of burn time required to reach space.

“I feel a little anxious and also excited,” he said before ignition.  “It’s the ultimate test we’ve been building toward with this version of the engine.”

Days before test: Warn local residents

Successful tests of bluShift’s current engine can produce up to 10 tons of thrust and light the sky around Brunswick Executive Airport. The sound is loud enough to rattle the chests of onlookers watching from half a mile away.

As the team has learned, it’s also loud enough to spook unsuspecting residents in Brunswick and Harpswell.

A March 1 engine test, which came just a week after Russia invaded Ukraine, caught bluShift’s neighbors especially off-guard, Deri said.


“The cloud cover was low, and when we lit our engine the whole sky vibrated with the glow of our engine,” he remembered. “It was a really good lesson that we need to do a better job of communicating.”

BluShift Aerospace CEO Sascha Deri watches a test of his company’s rocket engine in Brunswick on March 1. Contributed image

Now, besides warning the Brunswick Police and Fire departments about upcoming tests and posting on local Facebook pages, bluShift sends an email to the ever-growing list of residents who have asked to be notified before the company sets its engines ablaze.

Morning of test day: Set up engine

At 8 a.m. Friday, Deri’s team arrived to put the finishing touches on the engine before ignition. Engineers loaded a liquid oxidizer and turned on the system’s valves, while Deri set up several cameras that would allow viewers all over the world to watch the test via a live stream.

International viewers have reason to watch, Deri said. He hopes bluShift’s reusable, eco-friendly rockets will make the coast of Maine a key part of a growing global space economy.

The state’s geography makes it one of the few places in the United States where aerospace companies can safely launch small communication and imaging satellites into a polar orbit, meaning they travel north to south over the poles.


Through the Starless Rogue, which it hopes to launch next year, and its larger Red Dwarf rocket, bluShift hopes to offer both orbital and suborbital launches, tapping into an industry Deri says is worth $30 billion.

“There’s so many of these low-orbit launches that need to be made to get these sub-orbital satellites up in the air,” said investor Clark L. McDermith while waiting to watch Friday’s test. “I think as an investment opportunity there’s a lot of promise.”

One to four hours before test: heat oxidizer

Chilly weather on Friday posed a slight speed bump; while bluShift had initially planned on running its test shortly after 2 p.m., the team found the engine’s liquid oxidizer was taking longer than expected to reach the ideal temperature.

Deri announced the delay would take about an hour before milling around with media members and investors, answering questions about what may be bluShift’s most unique element: its bio-derived, nearly clean-burning fuel, which Deri claims he discovered on a visit to his brother’s North Yarmouth farm.

Sascha Deri, CEO and founder of bluShift Aerospace, stands in the company’s office at the Brunswick Executive Airport on March 18, 2022.  Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald photographer

The company’s eco-friendly angle has helped it raise about $1.25 million from nearly 1,300 investors like Camden-Rockport native Nick White during its current crowdfunding campaign.


“I’ve always been interested in clean energy,” said White, who works for electric car manufacturer Tesla. “When I heard about these guys, a Maine-based private rocket company looking to reduce the cost of launch in the state of Maine, I thought, ‘They seem pretty cool.’”

Minutes before test: final safety check

After the oxidizer finally reached temperature around 3 p.m., Deri announced to live stream viewers that ignition was imminent.

Unfortunately, the other users of Brunswick Executive Airport didn’t agree. Several planes and a paraglider passed overhead, putting the test on hold while Deri vamped to his internet viewers.

“I guess this is par for course for any rocket launch or rocket engine test,” he said. “I think we’ve hit rush hour traffic.”

At 3:36, after the team discovered and solved a problem with the engine’s ignition system, the test stand’s warning alarm finally sounded. Then, suddenly, came the rush of flames that may soon propel bluShift’s products off the Earth.


“Wow,” Deri said, still awed by the might of his engine. “Wow.”

The aftermath

BluShift is done testing for 2022, but the company has an important year ahead of it. In 2023, it will seek environmental licensing from the Federal Aviation and work with Steuben town leaders to finalize plans for a launch site.

Meanwhile, it will use data collected from Friday’s ignition and other tests to build a much larger version of its engine – one that could send the Starless Rogue and its cargo up to 95 miles into suborbital space next year.

“We know that with the engine as it stands now, we can make it to space,” said a visibly excited Deri after Friday’s test. “We just want to go farther. We’re going to rebuild that engine and make it even better.”

Comments are not available on this story.