When NASA last launched its Saturn V rocket in 1973, it towered on the launch pad as tall as an 18-story building that was wide enough to park a school bus inside and weighed in at 6.5 million pounds.

The launch site at the former Loring Air Force Base the night before the Stardust rocket launch. Linsday Heald, courtesy bluShift Aerospace

On Sunday, a Maine company followed in Saturn’s footsteps, but with a much smaller footprint. The rocket, called Stardust, stood 20 feet tall, was 14 inches in diameter, and weighed about 650 pounds.

But the rocket, built by bluShift Aerospace of Brunswick, made its own history, and its size is part of the story.

The successful flight of the Stardust this week was not just the first rocket launched in Maine. It was also the world’s first commercial launch of rocket that uses environmentally friendly biofuel.

If a series of scheduled test flights are as successful as Sunday’s, bluShift hopes it will have an affordable option for companies that want to launch small satellites but still have control about the timing and destination of the launch.

Smaller rockets may be just the thing as the miniaturization of electronics has led to tiny “nanosatellites” as small as 10 centimeters across, weighing as little as 1 kilogram.

While better-known companies like Space X are producing the space equivalent of long-haul trucks capable of launching thousand-pound commercial satellites, bluShift CEO Sascha Deri is trying to become “the Uber of space,” offering the same kind of door-to-door service as the popular ride-hailing app.

“We are targeting people that want to go to a specific orbit, they want to have control of their launches, they want to be the primary payload even though their payload is very small,” Deri said.

Deri said bluShift plans on “taking advantage of the fact that Maine has a southern-facing coastline that allows us to easily access polar orbit, or launch into polar orbit, directly due south of the oceans.”

Maine may never become a rival to Cape Canaveral when it comes to launching apartment-building-size rockets into deep space. But Sunday’s launch at the former Loring Air Force base shows that we won’t have to get that big to have a piece of the future in space.


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