A bluShift biofuel rocket launches from the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone in Aroostook County, Maine, on Jan. 31, 2021. Credit: The Knack Factory/bluShift Aerospace via AP

A Maine rocket firm’s bid to fire rockets into space from Jonesport might have fizzled.

The head of a Brunswick-based aerospace firm acknowledged that it looks increasingly unlikely his company will get local approval to launch rockets from an island off Jonesport, but said he remains committed to finding a long-term launching site on the Maine coast.

Blushift has been hoping to win local support to use Water Island, a small island roughly 1,500 feet long, to launch rockets up to 80 feet long into orbit every month or so.

But the proposal has run into significant opposition in Jonesport and the neighboring town of Beals, which together support a large lobster fishing fleet. Many residents have said the launches could hurt the local fishing industry.

“It’s very tenuous,” Sascha Deri, bluShift’s CEO, said about the company’s continuing interest in Jonesport.

BluShift has been courting Jonesport publicly since last fall, saying that Water Island is well suited for launching small satellites out over the ocean into polar orbits. Immediately though, there was opposition including a 6-month moratorium so the town could develop standards and restrictions for rocket launches enacted last fall.

In late January, a committee formed by the town to develop regulations distributed a survey to local voters to gauge public support for bluShift’s proposal. Of more than 130 people who responded, 80 percent said they were against it, 17 percent said they could support it with certain conditions, and 3 percent said they were in favor of it.

On March 14, voters at Jonesport’s annual town meeting will weigh in with a non-binding vote on a question about whether the town should allow rockets weighing 100 pounds or more, including cargo, to be launched in Jonesport.

“It gives us our direction,” said Carrie Peabody, chair of the town’s aerospace committee.

Whatever restrictions the town chooses — which could be an outright ban — will reflect the outcome of the March 14 vote and then will have to be voted on separately at an undetermined later date before they go into effect, Peabody said. If the committee has not finished drafting a proposed rocket launch ordinance by the end of May, the moratorium could be extended another 6 months.

Deri said the company twice has sent out informational flyers to local residents and in January met with and gave local high school students rocket science kits to interest them in possible aerospace careers. But there still seems to be a lot of “rumors and misconceptions” about what bluShift wants to do, he said.

The main concern is that the launches would disrupt local fishing activities, but Deri said his firm is willing to time the launches — either in Jonesport or another coastal community — for when fishermen aren’t out on the water, such as at night or on Sundays in the summer.

“We want to work around the fishing community’s needs, not in conflict with it,” Deri said.

In addition, he said bluShift would look to pay local residents — presumably fishermen on off days or after fishing hours — to help patrol the launch area to make sure it is clear when launches occur. He said the company would pay $600 to $1,000 per launch to each of “a handful of boats” for the patrols.

Last fall, Deri estimated that the company would employ roughly 40 people in the Jonesport area to work in launch logistics. On Thursday, he said bluShift might also build rockets near its launch site, which could result in a larger local workforce of roughly 120 and 200 people.

“That is potentially more jobs than Kingfish,” Deri said, referring to an aquaculture firm that is pursuing plans to build a $110 million land-based yellowtail fish farm in Jonesport on Dun Garvan Road.

Deri said bluShift is continuing to look for alternate sites in other coastal towns that may be more receptive to hosting rocket launches for the next several years. He said the company may opt to launch some rockets in Florida next year while it continues to look for a long term launch site in Maine.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....