LIMESTONE, Maine — Brunswick-based bluShift Aerospace was set to make history on Jan. 15 by launching the world’s first commercial rocket powered by bio-derived fuel, but clouds blocked the crew from getting the required Federal Aviation Administration approval.
Now, the launch from the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone may not happen until the final week of January, thanks to the weather outlook. On Friday the launch had been tentatively postponed until Wednesday, Jan. 20.
“It looks like there could be some sort of miracle, but we’re probably not launching this week,” Seth Lockman, communications director at bluShift, said Monday.
The team needs 48 hours of cloud cover that is less than 50 percent of the flight ceiling, which is 5,200 feet above sea level, Lockman said, On top of that, they need low winds for the same period, and about three to four days in advance to give the team time to come from Brunswick and prepare, including re-integrating the rocket and restaging the launch tower.
The Stardust 1.0 rocket is 20 feet tall, 14 inches in diameter and weighs about 650 pounds, and it cost — along with the launchpad — close to $1 million to build, Lockman said Friday.
The rocket and launch tower are being stored at a location provided by the Loring Development Authority. Lockman said he could not comment on the actual process of looking after equipment and what that entails.
“Long story short, it’s secure, but I can’t go into too much detail about that process,” he said.
The team will have to decide what to do about the rocket and launch tower — whether to keep it in Limestone or take it back to Brunswick while they wait for an appropriate weather window..
With the company’s goal of having year-round suborbital launches in Limestone, it is good they are ironing out this kink now, Lockman said.
Weather aside, the event on Friday went over superbly well, and bluShift received an outpouring of support from the local community and beyond, Lockman said.
About 50 cars attended while adhering to social distancing guidelines and parking in two distant zones, and a livestream of the event saw up to 2,100 simultaneous viewers.
“There were more people in the livestream than in Limestone, and we went for six or seven hours and didn’t even launch, nothing happened, but everybody was amazing,” he said. “There was so much support and interest, and folks on the chat were asking really good questions.”
People on site included the Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency, the Maine Forestry Service, Maine State Police and the Limestone fire and police departments, who Lockman said did a great job of safeguarding the base.
“It was an amazing day in every respect other than actually launching the rocket, and we can’t wait to try again.”
In the meantime, Lockman said he’s still getting overwhelming support from people online, some asking if the company is hiring — which they are not right now — and several just wishing the team good luck for the future launch.
And while some members of the crew up north are lodging at the Bunker Inn at the Loring Commerce Centre and hoping for a streak of good weather, Lockman said that support goes a long way.
“We’ve had so many emails from people just wishing us good luck,” Lockman said. “I’ve tried to respond to every single one, and it’s been amazing to read. With everyone being so kind and supportive, it makes it easier to wait.”