The Lagos-based Centre For Space Transport And Propulsion (CSTP), a technical arm of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) focused on space transport and rocketry, has completed three successful experimental rocket launches in the past nine months, recording varying degrees of success.
Established on 19 February 2003, as one of the six activity Centres of NASRDA, CSTP is charged with the responsibility of conducting fundamental research and development (R&D) of space transport vehicles and propulsion system.
Managed by Nigerian scientists and engineers, the goal of the program is to enable Nigeria to operate a spaceport with the capability to launch commercial satellites into Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO), and interplanetary space by 2030.
The Centre is strategically situated along the Lagos lagoon in Epe, and near the Lagos State University (LASU), Epe Engineering campus.
According to an official document from the Centre obtained by Space in Africa, CSTP carried three successful rocket test flights: CSTP_TL_1 launched on the 24 April 2019 while CSTP_TL_2 and CSTP_TL_3 were launched on the same day, 25 June 2019.
The document did not disclose the altitude achieved by the experimental flights. However, Space in Africa, in a previous site visit to the Centre, gathered that the Centre has carried out over 30 experimental rocket launches before 2019 with record altitude below 10km.
The recent test launches were conducted to demonstrate an extensive research effort carried out by the Centre to formulate a hybrid of sucrose and sorbitol-based propellants and to ascertain the integrity of its newly developed rocket recovery system.
“In the past CSTP has used sucrose-based or sorbitol-based rocket fuel which is of low energy for its test flights. It is pertinent to note that from 2019, extensive research effort has been carried out to formulate a hybrid of sucrose and sorbitol to obtain a solid rocket fuel of a higher specific impulse than the previous solid rocket fuels. This new fuel will be a game-changer for CSTP and hopefully, it will ensure the retirement of heavier Solid Rocket Motors for lighter ones,” CSTP told Space in Africa.
CSTP made some progress in the past 9 months in developing innovative propulsion systems and new propellants including the “design of a new nozzle and its integration with a bulkhead and chamber for Solid Rocket Motor (SRM) application”. The Centre said it designed and fabricated several SRMs with sorbitol propellants which recorded static test results ranging from 1.2KN-6.2KN. Its SRMs using sucrose and sorbitol-based hybrid propellants recorded 5.13KN with free volume and 7.12KN without free volume. The Centre also developed a 20KN load-cell with integrated data acquisition system (DAQ) for static test of SRM.
In the area of software development, the Centre boasts of developing “advanced in-house software platforms for analysis, evaluation, prediction and estimation of various datasets for optimization of the rocket structure, SMR and rocket test flights”.
On 25 June 2019, the then Director-General of NASRDA, Prof S.O Mohammed commissioned two modern facilities at the Centre: a mechanical workshop and advanced propulsion complex to support the Centre’s research and development activities.
According to Nigeria’s 25-year strategic roadmap for space, CSTP is expected to develop fully functional propulsion systems and sounding rockets to launch Nigerian-made satellites into space from a Nigerian spaceport by 2030.
Although the Centre has fallen short of its development timeline, CSTP officials believe they can still achieve the goal of launching satellites from Nigeria by 2030 if the government prioritizes funding for the project.
The Nigerian government is reportedly considering to set up a new launch site on a remote island in the Atlantic, to accommodate full-sized space launch programme. Space in Africa is yet to confirm the status of the report as most government officials either decline to comment on the plan or deny knowledge of such report.
Joseph Ibeh is a Mandela Washington Fellow and Senior Analyst at Space in Africa. His experience spans industry research and market analysis with a focus on African-grown NewSpace companies, commercial space industry, national space programmes and real-life application of space science for sustainable development in Africa.