Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

April 5, 2021

Rocket-maker bluShift to crowd-fund next capital round

rocket launch Courtesy / bluShift Aerospace Brunswick manufacturer bluShift Aerospace launched its first rocket prototype in January and recently opened a crowd equity funding campaign for further rocket development.

In keeping with its nature as an innovative company in the “New Space” industry, Brunswick manufacturer bluShift Aerospace is opting away from conventional venture capital and angel investment for its next round of capital.

Instead, the startup is turning to "crowd equity funding," which takes crowdfunding to the next level by allowing small investors to take a small equity stake in the company.

BluShift set its first goal to raise $1.07 million this way. The company will use the funds to further develop rockets using its proprietary bio-derived rocket fuel and modular hybrid engine. Longer term, it hopes to raise $5 million and create 40 aerospace jobs in five years. 

The campaign, on the Wefunder platform, is an opportunity for a wide range of investors to invest amounts as small as $100, bluShift’s CEO and founder, Sascha Deri, said in a news release.

“Investors of all financial capacities have the ability to make a pledge at whatever level they wish, starting at $100 and up, and the transaction can be safely completed online,” said Deri. 

Wefunder calls itself a “new kind of stock market” meant for startups and small businesses.

“Unlike Kickstarter, you are not buying a product or donating to an artist. Instead, you are investing in a business with the hope of earning a return,” the website says.

$5M crowd goal

On Jan. 31, bluShift launched Maine’s first commercial rocket and the world's first biofuel-powered commercial prototype rocket, called Stardust 1.0, from Loring Commerce Centre in Limestone.

The launch positioned the team to build a full-size engine for successively larger rockets, with the goal of developing an “Uber to space” capable of carrying academic and commercial customer payloads into space.

The company was in the process of reaching out to venture capital groups when it learned about the concept of crowd equity funding, Deri told Mainebiz.

The campaign was launched in late March. 

The goal of bluShift’s first “early bird” Wefunder round is to raise $200,000. By Sunday evening, the campaign was within $5,000 of the goal. 

The early-bird round has about three days to go, at which time the campaign opens to the public to raise the remainder of the $1.07 million.

Deri said a subsequent Wefunder campaign is expected to start in September with the goal of raising $2 million by October. A third $2 million campaign is expected to begin mid-2022. 

The approximately $5 million total is expected to be enough to get the company to full commercial operations.

The crowdfunding concept was attractive, he said, because it allows anyone, not just accredited investors, to get in on the startup. 

The interest was clear.

“The day after we launched, I had emails once every five to eight minutes from people asking to invest in our company — over 400 emails in three days,” he said.

Deri and his team saved their names and email addresses.

“They were among the first we emailed and said, ‘Okay, we have a platform,’” he continued.

The company has previously raised close to $1 million.

Stardust 1.0

The campaign’s initial funds will go toward additional hires for engineering and other positions, and further technology development.

That will begin with upgrades to the Stardust 1.0 technology for further testing in the next prototype iteration, called Stardust 2.0.

Stardust 1.0’s launch demonstrated that the hybrid engine and biofuel worked well as the basis for rolling out a much larger engine and rocket, said Deri. 

But it also revealed issues, including the need for better telemetry, communication and onboard video systems and better logistics related to launch operations.

“We need an actual mission control building or mobile unit,” said Deri. 

The need is pretty basic. During January’s launch, for example, one engineer had to operate his laptop from his car in order to keep it warm enough to function.

Stardust 2.0

A launch of Stardust 2.0 is tentatively scheduled for this summer from Limestone. Like Stardust 1.0, the goal is to recruit academic customers to supply payloads for the launch, said Deri. 

To secure payloads, bluShift is working with a South African company called XinaBox, which makes modular electronics suitable for educational settings.

“We’re working with them to coordinate payloads from students from around the world for this launch,” he said.

He added, “We’d love to see some from Maine.”

bluShift identified XinaBox through a group of Falmouth High School students that used the electronic components to devise an experiment for a Stardust 1.0 payload, he explained.

But a Stardust 2.0 launch isn’t certain, he added. The company is looking at alternative testing scenarios.

“One option is carry our nosecone section, with the telemetry and communication systems, in an airplane and track and it from the ground,” he said.

Starless Rogue

The reason for seeking alternatives is to accelerate that piece of the testing timeline in order to focus on construction of a much larger engine for the next rocket iteration, called Starless Rogue.

The 37-foot-tall Starless Rogue will have 20,000 pounds of thrust and is expected to fly to suborbital space.

That compares with Stardust 1.0, which is 20 feet tall, uses an engine with 2,000 pounds of thrust and flew up less than a mile. 

The goal for Starless Rogue, Deri said, is to perform a “beta” launch up to about 25 miles in the spring of 2022, make sure everything is working right, then launch Starless Rogue again that summer up to about 250 miles.

The successful flight of Starless Rogue is intended to qualify the rocket for NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, which facilitates demonstration of promising space technologies, according to its website.

“It’s very important we get that summer launch right,” said Deri.

As a full-sized commercial suborbital rocket, Starless Rogue will be designed to carry carrying more-advanced avionics and a larger and customizable payload bay. 

The first phase of Starless Rogue construction involves a new larger rocket engine test stand capable of handling roughly 10 times the thrust of its predecessor.

A subsequent rocket named Red Dwarf will be 78 feet tall and will be designed to fly to polar low-earth orbit.

New launch platform

Construction of the larger rockets will also mean creating a new launch platform, said Deri. Originally, bluShift was considering using a barge off the Maine coast. 

“But the costs around that became prohibitive,” he said.

Now the team is trying to find a remote spot place along the Maine coast or perhaps on an island with parameters to be a certain distance from human activity. 

“We’re looking for help from any town or person who can make suggestions on where we might be able to launch from,” he said. 

To that end, bluShift is waiting to compete in the final round of Greenlight Maine, an entrepreneurial competition for a $25,000 cash prize. If bluShift wins, the prize will help fund efforts to cooperatively identify a launch location in a community along the Downeast coast.  A final Greenlight decision is expected in July 2021.

In order to accelerate research and development, the company is moving to a larger workspace in a hangar at Brunswick Landing. Toward its goal of creating 40 aerospace jobs in Maine over the next five years, the company recently hired an executive assistant to the CEO and a business development officer and is conducting a round of hiring for new staff members with experience in aerospace, avionics or other technical backgrounds. It is also seeking summer interns.


Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF