UKZN test-launched its Phoenix 1 D hybrid rocket demonstrator.


A UKZN-made Phoenix 1 D hybrid rocket demonstrator, carrying experimental sensors and cameras, has been successfully test launched.

The rocket, which took off from the Overberg Range in the Western Cape, was developed by the University’s Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI) Space Propulsion Programme.

Funded by the Department of Science and Innovation, ASRI – previously the Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG) – is pursuing the development of sub-orbital sounding rockets (Phoenix) and orbital liquid rocket engine technology (SAFFIRE) under an integrated Space Propulsion Programme (SPP).

UKZN is currently the only South African university pursuing an applied rocket propulsion programme and producing graduates with skills in advanced manufacturing, aerospace systems design, rocket launch operations and computational analysis.

The Phoenix hybrid rocket programme is driven by mechanical engineering students at the University.

Months of hard work by a group of dedicated young people on the design and production elements of the rocket culminated in the exciting launch at Overberg on 14 March.

The team is now preparing for the second and final test in the campaign – the launch of the Phoenix 1C, a low-altitude rocket. Weather permitting, it will take off with experimental payloads for the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), the SA National Space Agency (SANSA) and a private company.

Both rockets boast design changes to the airframes and onboard systems that make them structurally more efficient and form a critical part of ASRI’s mission to develop larger, orbital launch systems.

ASReG successfully launched the Phoenix-1B Mark IIr sounding rocket in March 2021. It reached a height of 17,9km, achieving a new African hybrid rocket altitude record. The launch was hugely significant for South African engineering and the development of an African satellite rocket launch capability.

Sounding rockets are rocket-propelled launch vehicles that carry experimental payloads to the upper reaches of the atmosphere or into space. They play a crucial role in facilitating experiments in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including biotechnology, astronomy, astrophysics, materials science and meteorology.

The Phoenix programme, a human capital development initiative which started in 2010, has produced several graduates with advanced engineering skills who have been absorbed into South Africa’s engineering sector within entities such as Rheinmetall Denel Munition, SANSA, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Armscor.

Words: NdabaOnline

Photographs: Supplied