One Small Step for Maine

At bluShift Aerospace, the rocket engine is reimagined.

In the summer of 2013 Sascha Deri and his brother, Justin, were on Justin’s farm testing rocket engines. After spending most of the day out in the field, the pair went inside for a break, and Deri noticed a bottle of an organic substance on Justin’s kitchen windowsill. He wondered if burning it would work any better than, or at least the same as, petroleum fuel. As CEO and cofounder of a solar panel company, Deri prefers to conduct business that is in harmony with the natural environment. And why not try to create bio-derived rocket fuel? Two weeks later, he and his brother tested the theory. Almost immediately, it was obvious that this substance worked better than petroleum-based fuel. After running a few more tests, Sascha decided to develop a hybrid rocket using this bio-derived substance as rocket fuel. (The company keeps the ingredients confidential.) In 2014 he launched bluShift Aerospace.

For the last five years, Deri and his team have been developing prototypes and securing funding. The Maine Technology Institute has been a crucial catalyst in moving blueshift forward. The organization has supported bluShift in finding technical assistance and providing funding that allowed Deri to hire another full-time engineer. Recently, the Brunswick Landing–based startup was awarded two federal grants: NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research funding, which helps startups move forward with research and development of new, innovative technologies, and an I-Corps grant from the National Science Foundation, which funds those who have an innovative invention but need to conduct research to ensure that there’s a place for it in the market. Together, the grants total $139,999 of funding, and will move bluShift into its next phase of research and development. These grants aren’t solely for developing the bio-derived rocket fuel. BluShift is also creating a modular, modest sized rocket engine that can be duplicated and stacked together, “like one big Lego building block,” Deri says, as opposed to creating multiple engine types for one rocket. “And because we’re doing the same engine over and over, we can sort of perfect how the engine performs.” Through the bio-derived fuel and reimagined rocket engine, bluShift hopes to create an accessible and affordable rocket that launches small satellites into low orbit for commercial and educational uses. Not only are Deri andhis team reimagining what rocket engines can be, they’re repositioning Maine’s influence in the aerospace industry.

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