BRUNSWICK, Maine — bluShift Aerospace, which made world history in late January with the first commercial launch of a rocket powered by a bio-derived fuel, is already working on the next generation that could go higher and faster.
The Brunswick-based aerospace company is in the early stages of developing the Stardust 2.0, which will improve on the history-making Stardust 1.0’s design. The Stardust 1.0 is 20 feet tall, 14 inches in diameter, weighs about 650 pounds and cost approximately $1 million to build. The exact dimensions and cost of the next generation of rocket have not been determined yet.
After a series of weather and cloud-cover delays, the Stardust 1.0 launched on Jan. 31 at the Loring Commerce Centre in Limestone, the former Loring Air Force Base, with three payloads. The small team of about eight scientists was able to prove that their proprietary fuel was effective, and that the state is a viable spot for launches of this caliber. Now the team will use what they learned to build a bigger and faster rocket that can reach higher altitudes.
They will need to consult with the Federal Aviation Administration on whether their plans for the next rocket will fall under the same classification as the Stardust 1.0, bluShift communications director Seth Lockman said. If not, he said they may need to rework the design.
“We may wind up underpowering it a little and not pushing the technology to the limit, but on the other hand, we might be able to get there a little bit faster,” he said.
And while the finer details are up in the air, the new rocket will fly with a full-scale engine and reach greater speeds and heights.
“We’d like to fly it up to the Karman line, but it depends on how the rocket is classified — that will really determine the upper limit of the rocket’s performance. We need to find the balance between taking the most aggressive step forward while also moving as quickly as we can,” he said.
The Karman line is the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, roughly 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, high.
Lockman said the crew has designs for the 2.0, but depending on the rocket’s classification with the FAA, they may need to abruptly change their plans — something the team experienced with the Stardust 1.0.
While conducting customer surveys and analysis in the nanolaunch sector, bluShift learned that most people wanted smaller payloads. Originally the team had developed the Stardust 1.0 with a 50 kg payload capacity, but dropped it to 30 after hearing that customers didn’t even want to share payloads with 10 others.
“That’s what people wanted,” he said. “They wanted an Uber to space.”
After completing a formal review of the Stardust 1.0, bluShift decided not to relaunch it and instead move straight to creating a new iteration.
“It turned out that everything was nominal. The data was [as expected], and we’ve already had conversations about tightening the timing on the main chute, which deployed a few seconds early, but that wasn’t even really a problem. It would’ve been a nominal flight either way.”
He said there would be few benefits to redoing a mission where all results were within expected and acceptable limits.
The mission, in addition to making history, also raised awareness for the SpacePort Maine initiative, which is led by the nonprofit Maine Space Grant Consortium. The project’s goal is to boost the aerospace industry in Maine and utilize locations across the state including the former Loring Air Force Base and Brunswick Landing to help facilitate launches and bring entrepreneurs, researchers and students together to build space programs in the state.
Even though the company made world history and attracted the attention of massive news outlets like BBC and space.com, it’s now completely focused on these next steps.
“I don’t think anybody is still riding the high from this,” he said. “We had a jubilant evening at the Bunker Inn. Everyone was still distanced and masked, but we pretty quickly got back into it. We had a design meeting this morning and people are focusing on what systems we can flesh out while we wait for feedback on what classification the rocket can be. My impression is that everyone really wants to get to work on the next one.”
And with a successful launch under their belt and plans to start on a new rocket, the team at bluShift is optimistic about what the future holds.
“I’m proud to be on the team,” Lockman said. “I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished, and I feel fortunate to be able to share the story of what we’re doing and what can be done here in Maine. I think the future of the company is bright, and I think we’re gonna make a couple more records. As Sascha [Deri, bluShift CEO] likes to say, ‘The future of space will be made here in Maine.’”