Protest outside & inside of Maine Space Conference

By Bruce Gagnon,
Published on Organising Notes, 7 November 2023

Yesterday twelve people from across the state gathered outside of the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland for a protest during the lunch hour of the Maine Space Conference.

About 200 people attended the conference which was intended to ramp up the establishment of Maine’s campaign to enter ‘the space race’. 

The event began with Dr. Terry Shehata, Executive Director of the Maine Space Grant Consortium, introducing a NASA headquarters speaker who was described as ‘Our sugar daddy, we need to keep him happy’.  The NASA representative talked alot about reaching students across Maine and beyond in order to build their support for everything space. After all, in just a few years these students will be taxpayers and the aerospace industry wants to ensure that their generation supports massive federal spending for Moon and Mars missions and the militarization and nuclearization of space.

The aerospace industry calls it an investment. I learned this years ago at a similar conference at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In a workshop on ‘updating the center’s museum’, the director told the assembled they were retro-fitting the museum on a Mars theme. He bragged that they brought in thousands of Florida students each year that ‘would soon be taxpayers’.  That is now a national NASA organizing strategy to keep the aerospace funding pipeline humming for years to come. Get to the students and sell them on the ‘wonders of space’. Let’s all be astronauts!

Maine State Sen. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick) led a plenary panel discussion that promoted the joys of the space gold rush by promising loads of good paying jobs, little-to-no environmental impacts from launching rockets, and heavy emphasis on teacher and student recruitment. Daughtry was the prime sponsor of the bill in the state legislature to create the Maine Space Corporation with its 17-member board that heavily represents the aerospace industry.

Almost all the plenary speakers talked about the wonders of Maine wilderness that enables us to see the starry night sky. Sadly none of the speakers noted the irony that due to the space gold rush, launching thousands of satellites is ruining the dark view. Astronomers complain that it is becoming near impossible to do astronomical research because of long-strings of blinking satellites in the night sky.

The star of the conference was Sascha Deri (CEO of blueshift Aerospace, based in Brunswick). He has proposed a rocket launch operating site in Steuben, Maine – very near the world famous Acadia National Park in the northeast part of the state. Deri talks alot about his ‘secret formula’ for non-polluting rocket fuel that would hoist mini-satellites into space. He is currently receiving funds from NASA.

On September 24, Lisa Savage and I held a workshop at the Common Ground Country Fair on Deri’s proposal to create his rocket launch site. Deri showed up at the workshop and interrupted Lisa claiming the presentation was “lies”” but revealed that he has accepted funding from NASA and expects to receive US Space Force funding as well in order to launch military satellites. At that time Deris also admitted that the Space Force wants to provocatively fill up the remaining satellite parking spaces in Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) before Russia and China can get there.

In his own workshop at yesterdays Maine Space Conference, Deri claimed that he will build a satellite manufacturing site near Steuben that would create 150-200 jobs with a medium salary of $75,000 annually. He also plans to build a launch platform that looks much like an offshore oil drilling platform – he called it a space launch boat. 

When the Maine Space Corporation was created (Deri sits on the board of directors) it was agreed that Maine should not launch military missions into space. Since Deri’s September 24 disclosure that he will be getting Space Force funds to launch military intelligence, surveillance and targeting satellites it has become clear that the enabling legislation for the Maine Space Corporation will be violated by Deri’s plan to work with US Space Force. 

Since few likely knew (or were willing to raise the issue) I spoke up and told the more than 50 people in attendance at his workshop that Deri’s plan would be a violation of the Maine Space Corporation’s promise not to be military connected. (Many of the Maine state legislators who voted to support the creation of the corporation did so only because of the promise that it would not be military linked.) 

Deri was upset with my intervention in his workshop and told me to hold off and at the end of his presentation he’d answer my question. As time ran out it became clear that Deri had no intention of dealing with the Space Force funding question so I stood up and raised the issue again. He at first denied that he’d be launching military satellites, but then mid-sentence amended it to say that he’d only do so if there was a Kessler syndrome occurrence. (Where due to increasingly crowded Lower Earth Orbit cascading collisions begin to take out existing satellites. He said then he’d launch new mini-satellites for the Space Force.)

Deri said that the Space Force grant to his blushift Aerospace would be to produce rocket engines. He also went on to say that he was looking for additional launch sites and mentioned Puerto Rico and ‘other locations across the US’.

Plans are also emerging to test hypersonic rockets from a former air force base in northern Maine – further violating the Maine Space Corporation charter.

While many of the speakers made grand claims about jobs to come from Maine’s participation in the space gold rush, the evidence is otherwise. One of the other speakers at the conference talked about space manufacturing becoming increasingly done via robotic and computerized operations. This would increase ‘productivity’ and increase profit but reduce the need for so many workers.

Other places where rocket launch sites have been created like Kodiak Island, Alaska and Rocket Lab in New Zealand promised lots of jobs (which never materialized) and only civilian launches. In both those cases virtually all launches so far have been for the US Pentagon. In the case of Rocket Lab it has been taken over by Lockheed Martin.

Many of the people attending the Maine Space Conference were investors who are eager to ride the space rocket to grab profit and notoriety. Like any gold rush the long-term truth turns out to be quite different than the original sales pitch promises. 

It is incumbent upon Maine citizens to pay attention to this issue before taxpayers in the state get handed a huge bill for costs that were never made clear during this early round of pie-in-the-sky promotion.

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