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Billion-dollar 'Space Port' business could be headed to Maine if state legislator has her way

"What I truly believe is that the future of aerospace ... will have the words, 'Made in Maine' on it," Sascha Deri of bluShift Aerospace said.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — Tucked away in a corner of the former navy base in Brunswick, bluShift Aerospace is preparing to launch its most powerful rocket engine yet.

Powered by biofuel, the engines will eventually launch nanosatellites – or "cube sats" – into orbit.

Funded in part by NASA, the start-up company is part of a "New Space" industry slated to generate up to $68 billion by 2030.

"For long enough people have thought of Mainers as, 'We do great lobster, we do, heck, we do great beer,'" Sascha Deri, founder of bluShift, said. "It's time for us to show the world that, 'No, we do a lot of really cool things too like, rockets.'"

Deri said Maine -- particularly the coast in Washington County -- is uniquely positioned geographically to launch such rockets. He envisions Maine capturing as much as 10 percent of that market.

And legislation proposed by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, is designed to start the process. Bellows has proposed studying the feasibility of a Space Port to attract aerospace companies and bring some that $68 billion to Maine.

Terry Shehata, director of the Maine Space Grant Consortium, told Bellows that Brunswick Landing would serve as "mission control," with space for research and development, as well as educational and tourism activities.

Potential launch sites include Loring Commerce Center in Limestone and as-yet unidentified sites along the coast.

"How often is there a new, emerging industry that could bring manufacturing jobs, engineering jobs, tech jobs, to our state and potent generate millions, if not billions of dollars in revenue?" Bellows said.

The jobs, not just in the aerospace industry, but in restaurants and hotels to house cube sat customers, would be particularly welcome in Washington County.

But with one NASA grant in hand and applications for a second $750,000 grant due in February, Deri hopes bluShift will soon be launching one rocket a month, and eventually one a week.

Deri said if the Space Port develops quickly, bluShift is ready to take part. But he cautioned Bellows that a two-year planning phase is simply too long for bluShift. The company may not be able to wait, and may look to Nova Scotia or Alaska for space ports.

"So Maine has a real opportunity and the window is small for us to get on there, where it's not only our company but other rocket companies could launch from the space port," he said.

Bellows said the space port could be a huge economic driver for Downeast Maine, but added, "We do need to act fast."

Deri hopes the Maine Space Port will come to fruition in time for bluShift to participate.

"What I truly believe is that the future of aerospace, the future of space, the future of space exploration will have the words on it, 'Made in Maine.'"

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