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Updated: June 24, 2019

Brunswick rocket company wins NASA grant

Rocket engine test Courtesy / bluShift Aerospace A recent rocket engine performance test conducted by bluShift Aerospace in Brunswick. The long exhaust plume means the engine is producing a powerful thrust.

bluShift Aerospace, a designer of  a new launch system for mini-satellites, has been selected by NASA to receive a Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research grant of up to $125,000.

The Phase 1 grant will help bluShift develop a modular hybrid rocket engine that’s expected to simplify the engine configuration used to launch rockets into orbit, according to a June 18 news release.

Currently, modern orbital rockets, which are made up of two or more stages, use different engine types at different stages. Each engine is optimized for a specific part of the ascent. 

bluShift’s hybrid engine will be a single simple class of engine that can be used on all stages of a rocket. bluShift has named the concept “MAREVL,” for Modular Adaptable Rocket Engine for Vehicle Launch.

The hybrid rocket combines liquid oxidizer with solid fuel. 

By using only a single simple modular motor, bluShift will lower development costs because only one motor is designed for a whole class of vehicles, according to bluShift’s SBIR application.

The hybrid engine will also lower manufacturing costs, because only one set of parts, in high quantity, has to be manufactured. The breakthrough will also increase the pace at which rockets can be launched, because it adds a simple building block to the overall launch system.

The hybrid engine has both potential NASA and non-NASA uses, according to bluShift’s application. 

With regard to NASA uses, “bluShift Aerospace Inc. will position its business as a potential launch service provider for the NASA Launch Services Program under the Venture Class Launch Services Contract,” the application says. “It will be able to offer the program launch services at a lower cost than its currently paying and to operate at a higher launch frequency. MAREVLs can also be used by NASA as a standalone, self-contained, simple, low-cost and robust propulsion option.”

For non-NASA uses, the hybrid engine can be used by the Department of Defense  or other organizations as a standalone, self-contained, simple, low-cost and robust propulsion option, the application says. In addition, “bluShift will make its launch vehicles based on the MAREVL technology available to commercial launch industry, enabling private companies and educational institutions to launch” mini-satellites at a lower cost.

Tim Greenway
bluShift founder and CEO Sascha Deri and his team are developing small, low-cost launch vehicles for the burgeoning small-satellite market.

The engine will use bluShift’s proprietary bio-derived fuel, which is carbon-neutral.

The SBIR grant comes at a much-needed time for bluShift, which aims to accelerate research and development for production of a working prototype of the engine. 

“This is an incredible opportunity to develop hi-tech here in my home state, diversify Maine’s economy, and keep more of our bright young tech people here in Maine in the future,” founder and CEO Sascha Deri said in the release.

In March, Deri told Mainebiz that Maine is ideally positioned to develop a share of the burgeoning small-satellite market.

“My dream is there's not only a Cape Canaveral of the future, but a Cape Cutler in Washington County,” Deri said.

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