At the former Loring Air Force base in Limestone, where B-52s once flew, a new kind of rocket is to take flight Friday.
“I think there’s a certain level of excitement,” says Sascha Deri, CEO of bluShift Aerospace, the Brunswick-based company that designed the 20-foot rocket. “I think anxiety and stress is a little bit higher than anything else”
bluShift has created a solid fuel for the rocket that’s derived from agricultural products. But don’t ask Deri what’s in it — he says it’s proprietary.
Talking with reporters on Thursday, he did reveal it doesn’t involve wood or blueberries.
The fuel has a waxy consistency and will be injected with an oxidizing agent, then an igniter touches off the reaction, producing hot gases that drive the rocket skyward.
In the Friday test, the engine will burn for just 11 seconds, long enough to propel the rocket to an altitude of about 4,000 feet. The rocket, and its payload, will then parachute down to the ground.
Deri says the landing should be relatively close to the launch site, preferably on the grounds of the old Air Force base and not, as he points out, in the surrounding trees.
Deri’s company is trying to develop the capacity to launch small satellites known as cube sats.
“This market is expected to be $69 billion over the next decade. Something that we think is very exciting. If we can bring even a small percentage of that back to Maine, can make a real difference to, who we are as Mainers, and also influence who we draw here to Maine, in terms of talent,” he says.
If tomorrow is successful, Deri says he’ll seek funding to build larger rockets, one big enough to launch cube sats into orbit.
For that purpose, BluShift is examining launch sites on the Maine coast, which Deri says is the only place on the East Coast of the U.S. where satellites can be launched, safely over water, into a polar orbit. Polar orbits are useful because, over time, the whole Earth will rotate into view.
Friday’s rocket launch will carry three payloads: a special alloy that a New Hampshire company wants to test, a project created by Falmouth High School students that will use sensors to record atmospheric conditions and a company that, for its own reasons, has a package containing tourmaline and some stroopwafels.