Luke Saindon, Sanrio mechanical engineer for bluShift Aerospace — a Brunswick-based startup — lowers a nose cone onto the payload portion of a rocket prior to conducting a test firing of its biofuel-powered rocket engine, right, on Tuesday at their facility near Brunswick Landing.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

BRUNSWICK — A Brunswick-based aerospace company has tested a prototype engine that runs off a new bio-derived fuel that may someday help propel small satellites into orbit.

BluShift Aerospace, headquartered at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station,  fired the engine for its Modular Adaptable Rocket Engine for Vehicle Launch — or MAREVL — for 11 seconds Tuesday. The engine uses a hybrid rocket in which liquid oxidizer combines with a special type of organic, bio-derived fuel to reduce the complexity, weight and cost of an engine.

A biofuel-powered rocket engine undergoes testing at bluShift Aerospace at its facility near Brunswick Landing on Tuesday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The company has created a fuel that is non-traditional, sustainable and carbon-neutral, “and we may be the very first company in the world to do that,” Deri said.

BluShift Aerospace CEO Sascha Deri said the fuel is made with sustainable materials found on farms, and so could be sourced from Maine. The fuselage frame for the rocket was made with composite material engineered at TechPlace, a technology business incubator at Brunswick Landing.

The engine fired up, ran for the full 11 seconds and shut down as it was supposed to. Until his team can examine the engine, Deri couldn’t immediately say if the test was 100% successful.

If everything worked correctly, BluShift will schedule a test launch of its Stardust 1.0 prototype from the Loring Commerce Centre in Limestone within about two weeks. The plan is to shoot the 20-foot-long, almost 600-pound rocket almost a mile into the sky and bring it safely back down. This will mark the world’s first commercial launch of a rocket-powered by biofuel according to information from BluShift.

Maine is well placed for the aerospace industry, Deri said. It is the only state on the eastern seaboard allowing it to launch rockets into the polar orbit without putting people and property in serious danger. It’s also a draw for customers tired of visiting more remote areas for a rocket launch.

“They want to go to a place where they can have a meal, go to a hotel and it’s a beautiful place,” Deri said.

Team members from bluShift Aerospace, a Brunswick-based startup, carry rocket parts to a launchpad for a test firing of a biofuel-powered engine on Tuesday near Brunswick Landing. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Tests like these help draw investors needed to build their next rocket, Deri said. He estimated there are more than 100 companies around the country building rocket engines and that plan to build rockets. However, Deri said a very small percentage get to the point where they launch a rocket.

Deri said there is a large demand for small satellites to be in the polar orbits, “and we can do that less expensively, more conveniently and also quite frankly, more enjoyably than anywhere else in the U.S. right now,” Deri said. “We would be super proud if we could be that company to launch satellites and experiments up into space.”

Deri said he hopes the momentum for the aerospace industry in Maine will continue.

The aerospace industry is expected to be at $69 billion in the next decade. If Maine can tap into just 5% of that industry, “that would be an incredibly significant part of the industry within Maine,” Deri said.


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