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

Brunswick-based bluShift Aerospace is dropping its pursuit of securing a launch site in Jonesport and instead will look to launch a rocket from Florida later this year.

“Even though Jonesport didn’t work out, we have already been contacted by town leaders in Northern Maine and other coastal communities inviting us to bring the opportunity to their town,” Sascha Deri, the CEO of bluShift, said Tuesday.

He declined to specifically say what other communities have approached bluShift about hosting longterm launch sites in Maine.

Company officials cited local opposition to allowing rocket launches in Jonesport in making their decision, but said they still hope to secure a long-term launch site somewhere in the state. Deri has cited “rumor and misconception” about the impact on lobster fishing for fueling some of the concerns in Jonesport, which like the neighboring town of Beals is dominated by the lobster industry.

BluShift had been hoping to launch a rocket from Water Island in Jonesport this year in order to qualify as a flight provider for the   NASA Flight Opportunities Program. The program, which also has drawn the attention of larger companies such Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, would provide some funding from NASA to help bluShift develop its rockets for potential commercial use, the company said.

Instead of trying to win support in Jonesport, which enacted a moratorium on rocket launches last fall and appointed a committee to develop rocket launch restrictions, bluShift has decided to pursue launches at the Kennedy Space Center by the end of September in hopes of qualifying for the NASA program.

BluShift’s target niche in the aerospace industry is to launch small satellites with rockets that are up to roughly 80 feet tall and propelled by environmentally friendly biofuels. The company has been looking for launch sites in eastern coastal Maine, roughly between Bar Harbor and Cutler, so it can launch rockets to the south over the ocean, which is considered to be safer.

Deri said the company’s long-term goal still is to build and launch rockets in Maine over a period of at least several years. He said the company could have as many as 200 employees who would help build and launch rockets in Maine.  

“No matter where we launch from, bluShift will manufacture its rockets here in our home state. But we can do more good, create more jobs, and keep even more STEM grads at home and bring even more money into the state by launching our rockets here too,” he said.

Billy Milliken, a Jonesport selectman and real estate agent who owns Water Island, said that when he was first approached by Deri about launching from Water Island, he insisted that Deri present the idea to local residents. He said he does not blame the company losing interest in Jonesport.

“I’m very disappointed,” Milliken said.

Milliken said many local residents and the lobster industry as a whole are facing a lot of uncertainty over looming fishing gear requirements aimed at protecting whales, but that local residents’ fears over rocket launches were unfounded. Jonesport also is where Kingfish hopes to build a $110 million land-based fish farm, which also has raised concerns among some fishermen but still has local support overall.

If the town had been amenable to allowing rocket launches under certain conditions, it could have limited the size of the rockets and restricted launches to when fishermen aren’t out on the water, Milliken said.

And he firmly believes it would have been good for the town as a whole. In addition to having more local jobs, the town could have charged the company a fee of “several thousand dollars”  for each launch, he said, which could have been used to help fund town programs and waterfront infrastructure improvements.

“There’s no reason why those two activities couldn’t coexist,” Milliken said of lobster fishing and launching rockets. “It could have been a wonderful, wonderful thing.”

But now that bluShift has decided to look elsewhere, it might end up launching rockets from a more welcoming community nearby and Jonesport won’t have any control over the launches or get any financial benefit from them, he said.

“I hope they have the foresight to properly regulate it,” Milliken said of whichever town might be  willing to host bluShift’s launches.

Bill Trotter

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....