Two Minute Explainer: Rockets powered by biofuel set for space

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The first reusable space rocket powered by biofuel could be just around the corner after the launch of a prototype into low altitude.

BluShift Aerospace, a US-based rocket startup, propelled its Stardust 1.0 into the sky using sustainable bio-derived fuels that it has developed.

The company’s chief executive, Sascha Deri, said the biofuel is made from a blend of non-toxic substances that can be sourced from any farm in the US or around the world.

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The point of using biofuels that do not to contribute greenhouse gas emissions into the environment is interesting for many in the rocket industry as traditional rockets scorch through gallons of fossil fuels.

For example, while Elon Musk’s SpaceX is rightly lauded for making its rockets reusable, each of its Falcon 9 rockets use 29,600 gallons of kerosene per two-stage launch.

This equates to almost 337,000 kilogrammes of carbon dioxide per Falcon 9 launch, equivalent to 395 transatlantic flights. Over around 12 launches a year this equates to around 2.9mln kg of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

Not looking to compete with its more powerful rocket peers, BluShift is focused on small loads, Stardust 1.0 is a single-stage prototype rocket that can carry 18 lbs of payload into the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

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— bluShift Aerospace (@bluShiftAero) February 1, 2021

As well as emissions, biofuels also safer to handle and non-toxic.

“My two young daughters could eat the fuel and no harm would come to them, with the exception of constipation maybe,” Deri told the website Politico.

BluShift has been developing its solid rocket biofuel since Deri founded the company in 2014, helped grants including from NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research program.

Future reusable rockets from the company, with names such as Red Dwarf, are designed to launch small ‘cubesat’ satellites into space.

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