Maine company successfully launches prototype rocket

This Jan. 31, 2021 image provided by bluShift Aerospace shows The Knack Factory in Limestone, Maine, where an unmanned rocket lifts off in a test run. It was the first commercial rocket launch in Maine history. (bluShift Aerospace via AP)
This Jan. 31, 2021 image provided by bluShift Aerospace shows The Knack Factory in Limestone, Maine, where an unmanned rocket lifts off in a test run. It was the first commercial rocket launch in Maine history. (bluShift Aerospace via AP) (bluShift Aerospace)

BRUNSWICK, Maine – A Maine company that’s developing a rocket to propel small satellites into space passed its first major test on Sunday.

Brunswick-based bluShift Aerospace launched a 20-foot (6-meter) prototype rocket, hitting an altitude of a little more than 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) in a first run designed to test the rocket's propulsion and control systems.

It carried a science project by Falmouth High School students that will measure flight metrics such as barometric pressure, a special alloy that's being tested by a New Hampshire company — and a Dutch dessert called stroopwafel, in an homage to its Amsterdam-based parent company. Organizers of the launch said the items were included to demonstrate the inclusion of a small payload.

The company, which launched from the northern Maine town of Limestone, the site of the former Loring Air Force Base, is one of dozens racing to find affordable ways to launch so-called nano satellites. Some of them, called Cube-Sats, can be as small as 10 centimeters by 10 centimeters.

Sascha Deri, chief executive officer of bluShift, said the company is banking on becoming a quicker, more efficient way of transporting satellites to space.

“There's a lot of companies out there that are like freight trains to space,” Deri said. “We are going to be the Uber to space, where we carry one, two or three payloads profitably.”

Another aspect that makes bluShift's rocket different is its hybrid propulsion system.

It relies on a solid fuel and a liquid oxidizer passing either through or around the solid fuel; the result is a simpler, more affordable system than a liquid fuel-only rocket, said spokesperson Seth Lockman. The fuel is a proprietary biofuel blend sourced from farms, Deri said.