Meet the team

ASReG Team

  • ASReG Staff


    Dr Jean Pitot
    Dr Pitot is a lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and holds BScEng and MScEng degrees from the institution. He co-leads the Aerospace Systems Research Group and has research interests in the fields of concentrating solar power, computational modelling and simulation and hybrid rocket propulsion. He is a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and conducted research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013 as a Fulbright Scholarship recipient.

    Tel: +27 31 260 3200  |  Email:


      Prof Michael Brooks
    Prof Brooks is the Academic Leader of UKZN’s Mechanical Engineering department and a registered Professional Engineer. He is a co-founder of the Aerospace Systems Research Group and manages the Phoenix Hybrid Rocket Sounding Programme. He holds a BScEng from the University of Natal, and an MScEng and PhD from Stellenbosch University. His research interests include thermal management systems, solar radiometry and rocket propulsion. He is a member of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering, a senior member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a member of the AIAA Terrestrial Energy Systems Technical Committee and an alumnus of the Fulbright Scholarship Programme.

    Tel: +27 31 260 3201/7667  |  Email:
        Prof Glen Snedden
    PhD FRAeS PrEng (SA) CEng(UK)

    Prof Snedden rejoined the UKZN family after twenty-four years of experience in engineering design, consultancy and research in the fields of turbomachinery design, aerodynamics and heat transfer, ventilation and wind tunnel experimentation at the CSIR.

    Much of this work has involved collaborations throughout the international gas turbine community (SNECMA, Volvo Aero (GKN Aerospace), TU Darmstadt, Avio SpA, National Research Council of Canada, US Navy, South African Air Force, Canadian Air Force and Rolls Royce Corporation) and with many Universities in South Africa.

    He is the treasurer of the International Society for Airbreathing Engines which organizes a conference every two years and an active member and Fellow of the local division of the Royal Aeronautical Society. The Aeronautical Society of South Africa.

    Tel +27 31 260 1215   |   Email:
    Timothy Velthuysen
      Mr Timothy Velthuysen
    Mr Velthuysen is a lecturer in the school of Mechanical Engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal where he obtained a BScEng and MScEng degree. He is currently pursuing a PhD in the area of gelled propellant rocket motors. His interests include rocket propulsion, fluid mechanics, and heat and mass transfer. 

    Tel: +27 31 260 1213  |   Email: 

    Dr Graham Smith
    Dr Smith completed his PhD in the Whittle Laboratory at the University of Cambridge before joining Rolls Royce Aero Division as a senior Compressor Engineer. This experience has found application in ASReG supervising the design of a high pressure ratio fuel pump and matched impulse turbine suitable for a satellite launch vehicle. He maintains a strong interest in fluid dynamics and heat transfer and is also currently working on wave powered desalination and micro hydro research projects.

    Tel: +27 31 260 7379  |  Email:
  • Graduate Students


    Kai Broughton 

     PhD: Optimisation of Regenerative Cooling Channel Geometry for a Low Cost Additively Manufactured Liquid Rocket Engine

    Mr Broughton is a PhD candidate in the School of Mechanical Engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where he obtained a BScEng (summa cum laude) and MScEng (cum laude) degree in Mechanical Engineering. He was the recipient of the prestigious Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) Merit Medal in 2017. His PhD research is focusing on the design of an additively manufactured, regeneratively cooled liquid rocket engine. He is also working on hybrid sounding rocket development part-time. His research interests include rocket propulsion, launch vehicle design, and computational simulations.

     Ryan Cooper   Ryan Cooper
    MScEng: Design and Manufacture of a Liquid Rocket Engine Injector Test Rig.

    This project concerns the design and manufacture of a liquid rocket engine injector test rig. The equipment will be used to validate the modelled performance (flow rate and pressure drop) of a previously designed injector for a small satellite launch vehicle engine (SAFFIRE). The SAFFIRE engine is intended to power a rocket that is able to place a 75 kg payload into a 400 km sun-synchronous orbit from a South African launch site. The project will provide valuable test data for the SAFFIRE programme. The project will help validate whether the CFD studies previously conducted on the injector accurately predict the flow rate and pressure drop through the device.
     Phillip Gyasi-Agyei   Phillip Gyasi-Agyei
    MScEng: Experimental Characterization of Hybrid Rocket Motor Performance with the Addition of Fuel Grain Additives.

    This project will investigate the effects of fuel additives such as aluminum on the performance of a hybrid rocket motor. The primary activity will comprise hot-fire testing of laboratory-scale motors from which data such as fuel grain regression rate will be obtained. The aim is to rank the various grain and additive combinations so as to improve the combustion efficiency, design and flight performance of future hybrid rockets developed by ASReG.

        Chikhar Maharaj
    PhD:  Start-up Transience in Electric-pump-fed Liquid Rocket Engines

    This project aims to investigate various start-up transients for liquid rocket engines, and design a start-up sequence to enable fast ignition and stable motor operation. A mathematical model for start-up transients will then be developed using parameters such as thermodynamics, reaction kinetics, fluid mechanic properties, chemical kinetics and latencies of the ignition system. The model will then be used to produce a series of theoretical outputs that characterise the start-up transience. Relevant data will be recorded from the SAFFIRE liquid rocket engine and used to refine the model.

        Duran Martin
    PhD: Characterising and Predicting Performance of Injection Elements for LOX/RP-1 Liquid Rocket Engines

    Duran Martin completed his MSc in the Aerospace Systems Research Group with the design of an injector for a LOX/RP-1 liquid propellant rocket engine for the SAFFIRE programme. He is continuing his research in liquid rocket injectors through experimental and computational analysis. Key research areas are atomisation and combustion, combustion stability and manufacturing processes for injector components.

        Kirsty Veale
    PhD: Structural Response Modelling of Paraffin-Based Hybrid Rocket Motor Fuel Grains

    This research focuses on the structural characterization of paraffin wax, and paraffin wax with aluminium additives for the use in hybrid sounding rockets. Paraffin wax has demonstrated positive performance attributes when compared to other hybrid fuels, however, it's brittle nature and low melting point may affect its ability to withstand the loading and temperature conditions within the combustion chamber. The research objectives include a full structural characterization of the material, including strain-rate dependency and thermal softening, followed by structural response modelling of some of the Phoenix fuel grains which were developed during the Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Program. The grains which are of particular importance are those of a larger scale, such as the 100 km Phoenix-2A.
      Dylan Williams
    MScEng: Aerodynamic optimisation and airframe design of the Phoenix-1B Mk II Hybrid Sounding Rocket.

    The project will involve the further optimisation of the Phoenix-1B rocket to create the Phoenix-1B Mk II. The Phoenix-1B Mk II will aim to reach an altitude of 35 km and push the HSRP closer to the space boundary. A particular objective of the project will be the application of composite materials technology in the fabrication of a significant portion of the rocket’s structure, with the intention of reducing rocket mass. Of primary focus will be the development of a structurally-efficient filament wound pressure vessel for use as the oxidiser tank on the rocket. The project will also seek to optimise the aerodynamics of the rocket, tailor it for the new apogee of 35 km and improve on aspects of the previous designs which demonstrated weakness.

        Nino Wunderlin
    PhD: System optimisation of an electrically pressurised multistage launch vehicle.

    Nino Wunderlin completed his MSc in the Aerospace Systems Research Group with the design of an ablatively cooled liquid propellant rocket engine combustion chamber. He is continuing his research in system level optimisation of an electrically pressurised multistage launch vehicle which can deliver small satellites into low earth orbit. His research interests include, rocket propulsion, launch vehicle design and optimisation, and computational and numerical modelling.

    Vulinhlanhla Mchunu
    MScEng: Filament Wound Composite Oxidiser Tank for the Phoenix-1B Mk II Hybrid Sounding Rocket

    Mr Mchunu is the MScEng Candidate at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and holds BScEng degree from the institution. His MScEng project entails the development of an enhanced Phoenix-1B Mk II composite oxidiser tank for use in the new vehicle. This will involve improving the structural efficiency of the composite oxidiser tank by minimising its mass. The research will include the determination of a tank liner material compatible with the oxidiser, in this case liquid nitrous oxide. A new Phoenix 1-B Mk II vehicle will now be developed for an intended launch during November 2020.
        Jared Sabbagha
    MScEng: Static Stability Optimisation of Sounding Rockets through Aeroelastic Optimisation of Fin Design

    Jared Sabbagha is currently a postgraduate student in the School of Engineering at University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), where he completed his Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering (summa cum laude). His Master’s degree project is part of the Phoenix Sounding Rocket Programme which operates under the Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG) of the Discipline of Mechanical Engineering. The focus of the project is the development of flight stabilising fins for existing vehicles in the Phoenix programme, namely the Phoenix-B Mk I and the Phoenix-B Mk II. The research question relates to the design, manufacture and testing of two sets of fins for two sounding rockets, a set for each vehicle, to achieve the optimal static stability during flight and to guard against and prevent catastrophic failure of the fins and rocket flight due to aeroelastic behaviours. Measures to guard against other potential failure phenomena such as inertial roll coupling (roll resonance and roll lock-in) and coning motion may also be investigated and employed.
        Shuaib N Badat
    MScEng: Development of a Commercial Sounding Rocket Launch Gantry for South Africa

    This project deals with the design and optimisation of a permanent launch gantry structure to facilitate the launch of sounding rockets from a South African site. Sounding rockets carry scientific payloads into the high atmosphere and space for research into materials science, meteorology, biotechnology, astronomy and many other applications. The optimisation of the launch gantry will involve the use of computational analysis to account for static and dynamic loading. Shuaib is also part of the Phoenix ground support team for the ASReG 2020 hybrid rocket launch campaign.
        Yashik Singh
    MScEng: Development of a rocket engine electric turbopump test rig

    This project aims to design and manufacture an electric turbopump test rig capable of delivering the pressure and flow rates required by the SAFFIRE combustion chamber. The project entails the design of impellers for both LOX and RP-1 pumps as well as the selection of appropriate components such as a brushless DC motor to deliver the necessary system power and speed. Operation of the rig will allow for cavitation and flow characteristics of each impeller to be validated against calculations and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) performed.
        Tasneem Essop
    MScEng: Analysis of Commercial Sounding Rocket Operations at the Denel Overberg Test Range

    Ms Essop is an MScEng student in the Discipline of Mechanical Engineering at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where she obtained a BScEng (cum laude) in Mechanical Engineering. Her research involves the analysis of vehicle flight performance during proposed sounding rocket operations at the Overberg Test Range (OTR) near Cape Agulhas. The research is part of a broader effort that includes the development of a permanent launch gantry at OTR. This study includes flight dynamics simulations to understand and evaluate sounding rocket trajectories and safety footprints for various launch and meteorological conditions. Ms Essop is on the Phoenix hybrid rocket launch team as a simulations engineer.
        Aravind Arunakirinathar
    MScEng: Analysis of Potential Small Satellite Missions Launched from the Overberg Test Range

    Mr Arunakirinathar is a BScEng graduate of UKZN. His MScEng research aims to identify a range of commercial satellite missions that can viably be launched from the Denel Overberg Test Range, in the Western Cape, using a microsatellite launch vehicle. The study is undertaken through the use of orbital mechanics modelling tools and aims to predict and evaluate the operational characteristics associated with such orbital missions. This project forms part of the ASReG SAFFIRE liquid rocket engine development programme.
  • Associated Advisors

    • Professor Sarp Adali (UKZN)
    • Dr Glen Snedden (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research)
  • Alumni

    • Duran Martin - MScEng: Injector Design for a LOX/RP-1 Liquid Rocket Engine (2019).
    • Nino Wunderlin - MScEng: Design of a Liquid Propellant Rocket Engine Combustion Chamber (2019).
    • Kai Broughton - MScEng: Motor Design for a Sub-orbital Hybrid Rocket (2018).
    • Timothy Velthuysen  -  MScEng: Closed loop throttle control of a hybrid rocket motor (2018).
    • Raisa Theba  -  MScEng: An Investigation of Regression Rate in Paraffin-Based Hybrid Rocket Fuel Grains (2018).
    • Chikhar Maharaj  -  MScEng: Performance Characterisation of Metal Additives in Paraffin Wax Hybrid Rocket Fuel Grains (2018).
    • Nalendran Singh  -  MScEng: The hydrodynamic design of a liquid oxygen electro-pump for a liquid rocket engine (SAFFIRE) (2018).
    • Creason Chetty  -  MScEng: The design and hydrodynamic analysis of a novel kerosene electro-pump for a modular liquid rocket engine (2018).
    • Udil Balmogim  -  MScEng: Design and Development of the Phoenix-1B Hybrid Sounding Rocket (2017).
    • Donald Fitzgerald  -  MScEng: Turbine design for a commercial launch vehicle engine (2016).
    • Luke Philogene  -  MScEng: Development of a Universal Impeller Test Rig (2015).
    • Matthew Richings  -  MScEng: The Prediction of Cavitation in High Speed Centrifugal Pumps (2015).
    • Jonathan Smyth  -  MScEng: Design of Kerosene Turbopump for a Liquid-Propellant Rocket Engine (2014).
    • Fiona Leverone  -  MScEng: Performance Modelling and Simulation of a 100 km Apogee Hybrid Sounding Rocket (2013).
    • Seffat Chowdhury  -  MScEng: Design and Performance Simulation of a Hybrid Sounding Rocket (2013).
    • Bernard Genevieve  -  MScEng: Development of a Hybrid Sounding Rocket Motor (2013).
    • Matthew Page  -  MScEng: Modeling and Experimental Validation of a Loop Heat Pipe for Terrestrial Thermal Management Applications (2013).
    • Sven du Clou  -  MScEng:A Semi-Passive Thermal Management System for Terrestrial and Space Applications (2013).

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