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Business and Economy

Maine Company Successfully Launches First Biofuel Rocket

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Courtesy Photo
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bluShift Aerospace's rocket descends toward Loring Air Force Base in Limestone on Sunday.

bluShift Aerospace, the Brunswick company with dreams of launching satellites into Earth orbit from Maine, launched its first rocket on Sunday.

Just 20 feet tall, the rocket ascended less than a mile into the sky over the former Loring Air Force base in Limestone. But it proved the feasibility of the company’s first-of-its-kind biofuel and engine design.

It was the first commercial rocket launch from Maine and the first time anywhere that a commercial rocket had been launched using a fuel made from renewable, agricultural materials.

Afterward, bluShift President Sascha Deri said, “We have made history here in Maine. Limestone, Maine.”

It took three tries to launch the rocket, called Stardust 1.0. On the first try, a valve failed to open and the needed liquid oxidizer failed to flow. While flame appeared at the bottom of the rocket, without oxidizer, the fuel did not ignite and the launch was aborted.

An hour and a half later, a second try failed because the igniter fuel had completely drained on the first try, something that hadn’t been expected. With the igniter refueled, the rocket took off on the third try, a little after 3 p.m.

The engine fired, as planned, for about 15 seconds, then the rocket coasted to its maximum altitude. About a minute and a half after launch, the rocket and payload, which separated during the flight, parachuted back to the ground.

Deri later told reporters indications were that all components landed in good shape. Those payloads included some atmospheric sensors developed by students at Falmouth High School, a New Hampshire company testing materials for their durability under the stresses of launch, and a company that, in a humorous nod to its Amsterdam parent, launched a collection of Dutch stroopwafels.

Sunday’s successful test will fuel bluShift’s attempt to win more money from investors. Deri says his company needs about $650,000 to take the next step — construction of a larger rocket that will actually soar briefly into outer space, producing about 30 seconds of weightlessness for its payloads.

Deri says, for safety reasons, that next launch, which he hopes to stage by the end of this year, will have to occur at a new, seaside location. bluShift is looking at sites between Jonesport and Cutler. Such a location would also serve bluShift’s ultimate goal: to launch an even bigger rocket into a polar Earth orbit.

While it was a historic first commercial rocket launch in Maine, and likely the first commercial launch of a biofueled rocket anywhere, there was one more first: Deri told reporters Sunday marked the first time he’d ever seen a rocket launch in person.