Startup Successfully Launches First-Ever Biofuel Rocket, Stardust

Rocket startup bluShift Aerospace wants to build an "Uber for space."
Chris Young
The Modular Adaptable Rocket Engine for Vehicle Launch (MAREVL)bluShift Aerospace

Maine-based rocket startup bluShift Aerospace launched the world's first commercial booster powered by biofuel on Sunday, Jan.31.

The biofuel prototype, called Stardust 1.0, took off despite freezing temperatures and two false starts, Space reports.

Though Sunday's launch constituted a low-altitude1,219 m (4,000 feet) — test flight, it marks a major milestone for a company that aims to launch tiny CubeSat satellites into space using farm leftovers for fuel.

The company's rocket engine, called the Modular Adaptable Rocket Engine for Vehicle Launch (MAREVL), uses a proprietary solid biofuel which the company describes as being non-toxic, carbon-neutral, and "cheaply sourced from farms across America."

In a press event following the launch, bluShift Aerospace CEO Sascha Deri said the mission "went perfectly," citing the fact that the rocket landed exactly where they wanted.

Stardust 1.0 launched from a snow-covered runway at the Loring Commerce Center in Limestone, Maine. Soon after reaching its maximum altitude, the rocket deployed a parachute to fall safely back down to Earth.

The prototype is a small sounding rocket powered by "bio-derived" solid fuel. It stands 6 meters tall (20 feet tall) and has the capacity to carry 8 kg (17 lbs.) of payload.

Prior to Sunday's launch, bluShift's Stardust 1.0 had several failed launch attempts — one of Jan.14 was prevented by bad weather, while an initial attempt on Sunday, Jan. 31, was scuppered by a pressure issue with an oxidizer valve.

On the third attempt of the day, in mid-afternoon, Stardust 1.0 left its support rail and launched 1,219 m (4,000 feet) before deploying its parachute and descending back down to Earth.

'We want to be the Uber to space'

bluShift Aerospace was founded in 2014 by a team of eight people. The company's goal is to launch tiny satellites into polar orbits from the coast of Main in the United States. 

The company aims to target customers who want more control and flexibility over their orbits than they could be afforded by large launch providers such as SpaceX, whose secondary payloads are often launched within the confines of a predetermined route to the ISS.

"We want to be the Uber to space providing that true nano-launch service for nanosatellites," Deri said prior to the launch.

The company's next step involves developing two larger suborbital rockets, Stardust 2.0 and the larger Starless Rogue. These will be built to deploy payloads into space at a cost of up to $300,000.

bluShift Aerospace also plans to build an orbital rocket, called Red Dwarf, which would launch nanosatellites of up to 30 kg (66 lbs.) to orbit for about $60,000 a kilogram.

bluShift Aerospace won a $125,000 NASA grant this year, and the company hopes that Sunday's launch will help to draw private investors as the company aims to raise $650,000 to develop Stardust 1,0's successors.

Deri says that, if all goes well, the first Stardust 2.0 rocket could launch by the end of the year.

The company joins a list of exciting rocket startups that aim to compete with the likes of SpaceX by providing an even cheaper — relatively speaking — means to launch satellites and scientific payloads into space.

Watch the live stream video of the launch as it happened below:

Already have an account? Log in