Research Areas


ASRI’s technical work covers four program areas. These are sub-orbital rockets, orbital launcher development, turbomachinery, and propellants/on-orbit propulsion systems.

Sub-Orbital Launch Systems
The Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme (HSRP) and the Sub-Orbital Test Vehicle (STeVe) form ASRI’s Sub-Orbital Launch Systems program. The Phoenix HSRP forms a key part of ASRI’s Talent Pipeline Programme for human capital development and also serves to drive research in propulsion technology, vehicle design, and motor fabrication. ASRI also makes the Phoenix rockets available for commercial STEM suborbital missions.

STeVe is an unguided, aerodynamically stabilized suborbital vehicle, designed to reach 100 km using a single SAFFIRE engine. Its purpose is to test SAFFIRE and other related technologies that will be used on CLV. The first version of STeVe will operate in a blowdown configuration using liquid oxygen and kerosene.

Orbital Launcher Development
The South AFrican FIrst Rocket Engine (SAFFIRE) is the heart of ASRI’s Orbital Launcher Development program. SAFFIRE is a liquid propellant rocket engine configured with kerosene and liquid oxygen-driven electro-pumps that will power the Commercial Launch Vehicle (CLV). CLV is a two-stage carrier rocket with nine SAFFIRE engines in its booster stage and one SAFFIRE engine in its upper stage, and is intended to deliver 200 kg of payload to a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit.

Turbomachine Research Programme
Battery technology advancements have led the Turbomachine Research Programme to develop electrically-driven propellant pumps, known as electro-pumps, for the SAFFIRE engines. The high-speed electro-pumps can deliver discharge pressures of 43 bar to the injectors. This research area focuses on pump design, experimental testing, and numerical optimization. The program concurrently involves the design of conventional gas turbine turbopumps. In addition, ASRI has extensive capabilities in gas turbine and fan design.

Propellants and Applications
The Propellants and Applications Programme focuses on developing monopropellants suitable for use in-space propulsion. A significant shift to safer, more sustainable green propellant for in-space propulsion systems has occurred, with ionic liquids like Ammonium Dinitramide (ADN) and Hydroxylammonium Nitrate (HAN) being some of the most suitable candidates to replace the commonly used but toxic monopropellants like hydrazine. Research currently focuses on synthesizing and testing various HAN propellant combinations modified using methanol and gelling agents to identify the suitability of the propellant for a low-thrust in-space thruster. Concurrently with the propellant research, the development of a HAN propulsion system is underway. For further information on the commercial potential of this research, contact ASRI.