bluShift Aerospace, a Brunswick-based company that is developing a rocket to propel small satellites into space, passed its first major test on Sunday. The company is one among several in the race towards finding affordable and ecological ways to launch nanosatellites.
On Sunday, bluShift Aerospace launched Stardust 1.0, a 6-meter prototype rocket, hitting an altitude of a little more than 1,219 meters in a first-run designed to test the rocket’s propulsion and control systems. In this test run for the small payload propulsion system, the company added 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.
Stardust 1.0 is a small sounding rocket powered by a “bio-derived” solid fuel to act as a testbed for future bluShift rockets capable of launching tiny nanosatellites. It stands 20 feet tall (6 meters) and can carry 17 lbs. (8 kilograms) of payload. It took several tries for bluShift to launch Stardust 1.0. A launch attempt on Jan. 14 was prevented by bad weather. Then on Sunday, a pressure issue with an oxidizer valve prevented the rocket from lifting off, even as its solid fuel ignited.
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.”
Apart from this, Deri also mentioned another aspect of the project that makes it a lot more environment-friendly with its hybrid propulsion system. This relies on 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. “It’s a very nontoxic fuel, I like to say that I could give it to either one of my little daughters. Nothing bad would happen to them, I swear,” he said. “So it’s very much nontoxic. It’s carbon neutral.”