Rockets and motorsports engineering mix with UMaine grad

Episode 346

January 21, 2021

Rocket Man? Gearhead? Both?

What does it take to be a “rocket scientist” and how does a motorsports background help, if at all? Sometimes it seems that gearhead types that I make the acquaintance of seem to pop up in a variety of other roles. Maybe it is the small-town atmosphere of New England.

One of those stories from the past is a real rocket scientist, Luke Saindon, now living in Wiscasset, Maine. I first met Luke and Heman Norris when they were students at the University of Maine at Orono in November 2010. They had just formed the UMaine Formula SAE team.

Keith Dumond and I worked for Caribou Tech Center and were on a mission to see if our students might take a small role in building the UMaine Formula SAE car. Our students eventually went on to build suspension mounting tabs, suspension mounting rails, inner a-arm inserts, and fuel tank.

Computer generated plans for UMaine Formula SAE car which shows some of the a-arm inserts and mounting tabs built in collaboration with the Agriculture Mechanics, and Welding class at Caribou Tech Center. The machine work was done by Dick McNeal, a former kart racing champion from Presque Isle, Maine (UMaine Formula SAE plans)

I do want to bring folks up-to-speed on what the Deer Isle native has been up to since I featured him in Episode 36 on December 2014. You can read that episode for some of Luke’s motorsports background with UMaine Formula SAE as well as growing up in Maine.

Luke Saindon in UpNorth Motorsports Dec 28, 2014

Meanwhile some background not covered in the above episode

I noticed on social media that bluShift Aerospace was getting ready to launch an experimental bio-fueled rocket at the former Loring Air Force in Limestone, Maine. While pouring through the news and press releases, I noticed a guy who looked familiar. I asked the folks at bluShift if that was Luke Saindon? Sure, enough it was him.  Luke is the Senior Mechanical Engineer at bluShift Aerospace headquartered at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Luke will be the first to tell anyone that he is a part of the team at bluShift and wants no special recognition in regards to his work for the company since September 2019.

In Luke’s words, “I was born in 1990 and raised on Deer Isle, off the coast of Maine, in a wind powered house. Until attending Deer Isle Stonington High School from 2004-2008 I was home-schooled.”

A self-described tinkerer, Saindon built this full scale trebuchet or catapult while at Deer Isle-Stonington High School. It launched the rock “payload” over 300 feet. These skills would come in handy when designing launch platforms later in his career.(Luke Saindon photo)

“I always had an interest in engineering, which started in the shop helping my father. During high school, I started building small rocket engines, a fascination that still continues. After high school I received a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 2012, from the University of Maine.”

“During and after undergraduate school I took several internships to broaden my areas of expertise. They ranged from NASA to environmental engineering. Following graduation, I also spent 4 months visiting France, working on a farm, and improving my French.”

“An important part of life has also been art, which I have always been exposed to by taking classes and building sculpture since I can remember. My mother always encouraged and facilitated that aspect of my life.”

“I believe that engineering and art should work together more closely, and would both benefit as a result. People that combine the two successfully create beautiful work and inspire me. To be satisfied, both areas need to be a part of my life, and I’m always searching for ways to have a foot in both doors. As a result, many of my art pieces are kinetic sculpture with engineering elements, and my engineering projects always have to be aesthetically pleasing.”

Luke’s interest in high performance rockets goes way back in his youth. This is a 3-stage rocket he built for physics class in high school. (Luke Saindon photo)

“I had dabbled in Estes rockets, but nothing bigger, and I wanted to try and go to the next scale. One rocket I designed and helped build was for my high school physics class. I also decided to attempt my Tripoli Level I certification, which was classified as a ‘high powered rocket’”.

“I led a team in my physics class to build a small three stage rocket.  Worked as the draftsman on the team. I used Google SketchUp to model the vehicles and then helped the rest of the team follow my plans. It was on this project that I learned the importance of airframe center of pressure and center of gravity and how they relate to stability.”

“The Tripoli Level I certification rocket went up without a hitch.  The smaller class-built rocket failed because one of the booster engines didn’t light, causing off center thrust.”

Luke was a founding member of Team URSA. Team URSA is a multidisciplinary team that is enhancing STEM education by designing and fabricating reference designs for sub-orbital space exploration.

Team URSA eventually launched a multi-stage rocket in the Mojave Desert in 2016 in conjunction with Mavericks Civilian Space Foundation and founder Thomas Atchison who is like a mentor to Saindon.

Mide Technology and bluShift Aerospace

Saindon went to work for Mide Technology Corporation in Woburn, Massachusetts in June 2013 which developed into full-time employment. Mide is an aerospace and mechanical engineering firm.

Saindon worked as a volunteer for the start up bluShift Aerospace after founder/CEO Sascha Deri reached out to him about a paper written in college about hybrid rocket motors. Deri knew that type of rocket was what his company needed to use to prove the bio-based fuel he developed might be used as a rocket propellant.

When Saindon successfully wrote a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant, he was able to work full-time for bluShift and return to Maine.

The company website proclaims, “bluShift Aerospace is developing our rocket differently. Our small team is not afraid to fail; rapid testing and iterations of design have resulted in drastic changes and great discoveries that a bigger team would have been slower to achieve.”

“We focus our expertise in aerospace, computer science, physics, manufacturing, and mechanical design using Scrum framework, keeping bSA light on its feet and quick to adapt. The result being a rocket developed to have an ultra-efficient nozzle, cutting-edge materials, and stellar fuel performance.”

Engine test fire at Brunswick prior to Loring

This group attempted to launch from Loring Air Force Base January 15, 2021. The launch had to be scrubbed due to a low 3,900-foot ceiling. They need 6,000-feet to launch the rocket about one mile vertical.

A view from the ground of the bluShift Stardust 1.0 rocket Made in Maine on launch pad at Loring runway. The launch had to be scrubbed due to low cloud cover. (Luke Saindon photo)

Following is a short video from bluShift Aerospace CEO Sascha Deri on the Loring adventure.

The Porsche with a Corvette engine

Luke’s 1986 Porsche 944 with Chevrolet V8 replacing the original engine. Saindon built many pieces that allowed the engine to be bolted in. (Luke Saindon photo)

Saindon has sold his 1986 Porsche 944. He swapped the Porsche turbo engine for a more powerful Chevrolet LS V8. He ran the car at Loring a couple times during the Cumberland Motor Club Mega Autocross. He also used it for a Track Day event at Blackhawk Farms race track in Wisconsin while visiting relatives.

His current mode of transportation is a Mercedes box van converted to living quarters. He noted that he was still interested in autocross, however, is leaning heavily toward using an electric sports car if they make such a vehicle.

Luke Saindon with his Mercedes van at the scrubbed launch at Loring January 15, 2021. (HTF Motorsports photo)

He and fellow bluShift mechanical engineer Brook Halvorson share a love for Formula 1 racing. They compare notes before and after races and talk about the sport.

The Formula SAE Experience helped

Article in the UMaine Engineering publication in 2010 that caught my eye when it arrived in the mail. Contact was made with faculty advisor Mick Peterson. A face-to-face meeting at UMaine Orono in November 2010 which began a three-season relationship with the Formula SAE team. (Photo of article in UMaine Engineering magazine)

When given a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest rating, I asked what Saindon’s experience on the UMaine Formula SAE team meant to his career development. He said, “8”.

“Formula SAE made me who I am today. It was instrumental in getting internships and taught me how to work in groups. It was great on my resume. Since I started it (UMaine Formula SAE) I learned a great deal about leadership.


Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine