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Jonesport may decide the fate of Brunswick rocket company’s proposed launch site

bluShift Aerospace's rocket descends toward Loring Air Force Base in Limestone in winter 2021.
bluShift Aerospace
bluShift Aerospace's rocket descends toward Loring Air Force Base in Limestone in winter 2021.

The legislature is working on a bill that is meant to further Maine's ambitions in outer space. Chief executive of Brunswick-based bluShift Aerospace Sascha Deri said he supports some of the goals of the bill, but is unhappy it also duplicates his efforts to find a viable launch site.

"[If the state does try to establish a competing spaceport], let it please be a requirement that the launch pad and launch area only be used by companies that are using green fuels, ones that are environmentally responsible and non-toxic," Deri said.

bluShift has been developing such a fuel. It was used to launch a rocket last year from the former Loring Air Force Base that soared over 4,000 feet into the air. The company is hoping to launch a second rocket this year that would climb much higher. For that, bluShift is eyeing an island off Jonesport, but the idea has been greeted by opposition in the town.

A survey found 80% of respondents oppose the idea, with more than a third of respondents in commercial fishing. Deri said fishermen already told him they could tolerate launches on weekends and evenings when the boats can't go out.

"At the time, I didn't know that was feasible. We actually had to talk to the FAA. And we found out, of course the weekends not issues," Deri said. "But I think our biggest concerns would be any problems with us launching in the evenings in the summertime, and there are not."

Deri said bluShift would look to pay fishermen to help clear the waters for weekend or evening launches. A Jonesport Committee is going to draft an ordinance to regulate rocket launches. It will be on the ballot at Jonesport's town meeting vote in mid-March.

Deri told investors Thursday that bluShift is looking at alternatives for its next launch later this year.

"We don't want the launch site to hold us up from getting to revenue generation and qualifying for the NASA Flight Opportunities Program for a suborbital launch vehicle, so, we're looking at places like, for instance, the Kennedy Space Center has a brand new pad for very small launch vehicles like ours," Deri said.

Deri said he's been meeting regularly with Jonesport residents in recent weeks and found many had misconceptions he's been able to clear up about launch activities. A town committee is still drafting an ordinance with conditions for possible rocket launches. Residents will have the final say in a town meeting vote in mid-March.