South Africa’s UKZN Breaks Africa’s Rocket Launch Record – Reached 18km

UKZN’s affiliated AeroSpace Systems Research Group recently launched Phoenix-1B Mk II rocket, with a technology demonstration objective. The project was used to train students on vehicle design, test operations, and to inspire the younger generations. Launched at Denel Overberg at 16h00 on Sunday, the rocket was aimed at reaching 15km but eventually reached a height of 18km, making the record for the highest flown indigenous rocket on the continent in recent times. The project is funded by the South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the South African National Space Agency (SANSA).

Earlier in February, in a chat with Kai Mitchell Broughton, Team lead and Mechanical Engineer at the Group, he said “We have been working on the Mk II since 2017, launched it in 2019 but it failed. We had a break thereafter and this is when we put together a team of post-grads and PhD students to help rebuild the rocket. We had about ten part-time engineers and students working on the sub-systems to put together the vehicle again, and we reused a few parts that were not damaged from the first launch. We have recently completed the testing and will be launching. This particular rocket was designed to go about 35 km high. We wanted to push the amateur sounding rocket record in Africa, which is about 10.3 km. But for now, we are pushing for a 20 km height as the primary objective.

The Mk I rocket is more of a technology demonstration/test vehicle. It can get to about 15 km but we are only going to be testing 6 km this time, just to assess the systems within the vehicle such as the recovery systems; we are going to bring down the vehicle using parachutes, and also the telemetry systems which record vehicle altitude, atmospheric pressure, and more importantly, video feeds. We will be installing some cameras in the rockets and hopefully capture some high definition videos that will be our first footage from a rocket launch”.

The team had tested its Phoenix-1B Mark 2 hybrid sounding rocket at the Denel Overberg Test Range on 16 February 2019 which was a partial success. Aside South Africa, other countries working on rocket programs include Kenya and Nigeria.

In November 2020, Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM), a German defence equipment production company signed an agreement with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), on rocket propulsion to usher the development of a commercial satellite launch vehicle.

The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) covers cooperation in the development of new rocket propulsion technologies, including collaborating on a liquid propellant rocket engine project named SAFFIRE. The SAFFIRE initiative – South African First Integrated Rocket Engine – is a project created by UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). SAFFIRE originally started out as a paper design study by ASReG. The modular and compact liquid-propellant rocket engine would power a hypothetical 75 kg payload satellite launch vehicle.


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