Four Cape men set altitude record for amateur rocket launch in Africa

By Lisa Isaacs Time of article published Aug 29, 2019

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Cape Town – Before the launch of what would become the new African altitude record for amateur rocketry set by four local men, a number of crucial laptops carried out system updates simultaneously.

The last-minute hitch threw the crew of Mark de Bruyn, his sons John and David, along with Dino Marx, out only slightly, as they made a quick plan to source another laptop for the launch in the Karoo on August 3, after receiving flight clearance for a couple of hours from the Civil Aviation Authority.

For decades the race has been on to break the 10km barrier and the team from Cape Rocketry managed to not only break the previous record of 9.5km, but pip the elusive 10km mark at 10.37km. 

They were the first people on the continent to break through the 10km mark and now hold the record.

Mark and John are based in Knysna while David and Marx are in Cape Town. They were determined to build as much of the rocket themselves as possible and only use local companies where needed. 

They made the propellant and used electronics developed by David. The rocket had a GPS system, which was responsible for deploying the parachute and tracking the rocket to the landing site. The rocket burnt more than a kilogram of propellant within a single second.

After seven seconds it reached almost twice the speed of sound, travelling faster than a rifle bullet, and had more kinetic energy than five African elephant bulls charging at top speed.

Photo: Supplied

The core of the motor reached temperatures of over 2 000ºC.

After 45 seconds of flight time it had exceeded the height of Mount Everest by over a kilometre and had shed half its 20kg weight.

It took about six months to build the rocket, but the team has been researching and building smaller rockets for over 10 years.

David, a software engineer, said once they broke the 10km barrier, the team was ecstatic that their hard work had paid off.

“We got the result we wanted, and our predictions were correct. We had some trouble with the laptops, they all decided to Windows update at the same time, about an hour before the planned launch. 

"It was frustrating,” he said, but once an additional laptop was sourced, it was all systems go.

They team had air clearance between 8am and midday, and could not miss this window.

Cape Rocketry says the next challenge will be 20km - and one day space.

“There are other records to look out for. The European record is about 32km - that would be an interesting one for us to break,” David said.

While it would be difficult to balance their day jobs, families and rocket work, and find funding for it, the team was committed to reaching new heights, he added.

Cape Times

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