LIMESTONE, Maine — Two months after making world history with the launch of the Stardust 1.0, a commercial rocket powered by a proprietary bio-derived fuel, bluShift Aerospace has plans to build three more rockets, one of which may launch from Limestone this summer.
The Stardust 2.0, an improved iteration of the first rocket but with the same amount of power, would be launched from the Loring Commerce Centre in Limestone — where the 1.0 made history — at the end of the summer, according to bluShift CEO Sascha Deri. The company’s ultimate goal is to help build the aerospace industry in the state. Deri said there is an estimated $69 billion market potential for nanosatellite launches over the next decade.
The summer launch could depend on whether the company garners enough customer interest for payloads on the rocket.
bluShift, based in Brunswick, is working with South African company XinaBox, which develops Lego-like electronic devices for elementary to high school students to put together for science experiments, and that could be launched to a mile up, or to a suborbital level, he said.
Besides XinaBox, Deri is working with the Maine Space Grant Consortium to interest Maine students and teachers in launching payloads at a relatively low cost, which could be subsidized by various funding sources.
Next year, bluShift hopes to create the Starless Rogue Beta — a rocket that will have the potential for space flight. The beta version would be launched next spring, but would be underpowered to meet FAA standards and reach approximately 30 to 40 kilometers — approximately 18-24 miles — in altitude. Then, in the summer of 2022, a full-powered version of the Starless Rogue will be launched into suborbital space.
The team is also building a new model of the Modular Adaptable Rocket Engine for Vehicle Launch for the Starless Rogue. Deri said this engine will be up to 10 times more powerful than the version of the MAREVL engine used in the Stardust 1.0 on Jan. 31.
“That will be our core engine that we will use for every rocket from here on out,” Deri said. “Part of our cost-saving methodology is to build one engine for orbital and one for suborbital.”
To assist with these endeavors, the company recently kicked off a crowdfunding campaign via the Wefunder platform.
Deri said he was inspired to seek crowdfunding not only to help with the development of the new engine, but also because the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission changed crowd equity funding rules on March 15 allowing companies to raise up to $5 million as opposed to just $1.07 million.
The first round of fundraising will be for roughly $1 million to build the new engine. The company will return to crowdfunding a couple months later for an additional $1 million to $2 million to launch the Starless Rogue Beta off the coast of Maine. The second round will assist in all aspects of the launch, including the ground support systems needed.
Deri learned about the possibility of crowdfunding through the Maine Technology Institute.
“It allows anybody to invest and that, to some degree, spoke to our desire to build a company that grows and stays a Maine company in 15 to 20 years from now. Whereas going the traditional route seemed to be locking us into selling the company off to a larger firm down the road and possibly seeing this blossoming industry not stay in our home,” Deri said.
At first, bluShift had decided not to build and launch the Stardust 2.0 and move straight to developing the Starless Rogue Beta rocket. But Deri said demand was high to launch the Stardust once again, even if it only went a mile in the sky.
“We have a number of improvements we want to make to the rocket, and it behooves us to do this in Limestone,” Deri said.
Since their Jan. 31 launch, Deri said the company has received about 400 calls and emails from people interested in contributing to the company’s future endeavors. And while the team is familiar with the Loring runway, Deri said they are still in the process of locating a good spot on the coast for their eventual space launch.
“We need Mainers’ help,” he said. “We have to find a location that’s 1.5 miles away from people’s homes, that’s also private property, and would allow us to create a small little launch location.”
The company is working closely with several Maine communities to determine the location, and Deri said it would be a fantastic opportunity for state tourism.
“We had about 100 cars pull up in Limestone,” he said. “Imagine if we launched off an island off the coast of Maine that was visible from dozens of towns, and the tourism that alone could attract.”
The launch does not have to occur on an island. In fact Deri said a peninsula would be ideal, but also less likely as it would need to be 1.5 miles away from people and homes.
“It’s been incredibly insane. I have not been able to find enough hours in the day, and at the same time it’s incredibly exciting. I think we have a real shot at growing this industry in Maine,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the new MAREVL engine would be 20 times more powerful than the version used on Jan. 31. The new engine will be 10 times more powerful than the first iteration.