01 February 2021
bluShift Aerospace has launched the world’s first commercial biofuel-powered rocket.
The launch of Stardust 1.0 was initially planned for October 2020 but was pushed back several times due to unsuitable weather conditions. After two false starts and despite sub-zero temperatures, the rocket prototype finally made its debut on 31 January at a former military base in Maine, which was used by B-52 bombers in the Cold War.
“We want to prove that a bio-derived fuel can serve just as well, if not better in some cases, than traditional fuels to power rockets and payloads to space,” Sascha Der, Founder of bluShift Aerospace told the BBC.
“It actually costs less per kilogram than traditional rocket fuel and it’s completely non-toxic. It’s a carbon-neutral fuel which is inherently better for our planet and more responsible.”
Based in Brunswick, Maine, bluShift was founded in 2014 with the aim of designing and developing biofuel-derived rockets to launch tiny satellites into space.
“We’re looking at rockets like no one has before, by integrating multiple innovative technologies for the first time in one motor. Not only does our approach increase performance by using a sustainably farmed, bio-derived fuel, but that fuel also mitigates the detrimental impact on the environment that traditional liquid and hybrid rocket motors can have,” the company claims.
Stardust reached an altitude of about 4,000 feet (1,219m), before parachuting back to Earth.
The small size of the rocket prototype – which is just 20ft (6m) long and weighs 550lbs (250kg) – means it is cheaper to fly than larger rockets, and consequently, more accessible for use in space research.
The payload included a science experiment created by Shruti Joshi, Libby Greenlaw and Carissa Lucas and Pema Williams – four students at Falmouth High School. The team’s sensing device will collect a variety of data on atmospheric conditions such as humidity and air pressure, which will help to prepare for the tentatively planned March 2022 NASA launch.
The test launch also included nitinol, an alloy designed to protect rocket payloads from vibrations, from Kellogg Research Labs in Salem, New Hampshire.
“We’re very heavily involved in space and trying to get into the larger missions like the lunar missions and the Mars missions that are coming up,” Kellogg Research Labs Founder, Joe Kellogg, told the BBC. “Our long-term goal is to build whole rockets out of nitinol. We think we can make them lighter and more energy efficient.”
blueshift has high hopes for future launches: “Right now, there are freight trains to space like SpaceX and ULA – and there are buses to space, like medium-size rockets,” says Deri. “They’re taking thousands of kilograms to space. But there’s no space launch service allowing one or two payloads to go to space. There’s no Uber to space. We want to be the Uber service to space.”
blueshift hopes to debut its Stardust 2.0 rocket by the end of the year.
Video courtesy of bluShift Aerospace.
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