Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG)

Research Areas

Hybrid Rocket Propulsion

Hybrid rockets are propelled by a combination of solid fuel and liquid oxidiser and offer advantages over solid motors, such as improved safety and the capacity for throttling. ASReG’s hybrid propulsion work takes place under the Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme (HSRP). This aims to develop a series of flight vehicles leading to the deployment of a 100 km apogee sounding rocket for use by the African physics community.

Our hybrid research focuses on the design, testing and integration of various rocket sub-systems, including vehicle airframes, motors, avionics and launch facilities. Our current focus is on enhancing motor performance through the introduction of metal fuel additives to paraffin fuel. Milestones achieved to date include:

  • The successful firing of laboratory-scale wax/N2O motors
  • The design, construction and launch of the Phoenix-1A demonstrator rocket from Overberg Test Range in 2014
  • The development of the Phoenix-1B workhorse hybrid rocket demonstrator 
  • The development of the Phoenix-1B Mk II hybrid rocket demonstrator 
  • The development of a permanent laboratory-scale motor test facility

Liquid Rocket Propulsion

Our liquid propulsion research programme focuses on component design for high-performance turbopumps. Milestones to date include the design of a kerosene turbopump impeller, including a CFD-based analysis of its performance, and the development of a high-speed pump test rig to characterise cavitation. This work will lead to the complete design of ASReG’s South African First Integrated Rocket Engine – SAFFIRE – which comprises a small-scale booster engine capable of powering a small-satellite launch vehicle to low Earth orbit.

Launch Systems

ASReG’s work in propulsion requires that we build and test launch systems capable of supporting hybrid rocket campaigns. Our mobile launch platform is configured to enable static test-firing of medium-scale hybrid motors as well as providing an erectable gantry for vehicle launches. The platform can be towed to launch sites on public roads and incorporates a LabVIEW controlled propellant handling system to fuel hybrid rockets remotely.