UKZN students smash African hybrid rocket altitude record
The successful flight took place on March 8, when a gap in the weather provided suitable launch conditions. The Phoenix-1B Mk IIr vehicle soared to a new high altitude mark for hybrid rockets, beating the previous African record of 10.3km.
“The team is delighted to see all of their hard work come to fruition with a picture-perfect flight, which exceeded our expectations” said Dr Jean Pitot, the leader of UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG).
ASReG’s Phoenix Hybrid Rocket Programme is a skills development initiative that focuses on suborbital launch vehicle design and testing.
After signing the fins pre-launch – a tradition in rocketry research – the team retreated to a mission control blockhouse from where the nerve-racking countdown was initiated.
Professor Michael Brooks of UKZN’s mechanical engineering department acknowledged the substantial funding received from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) for the project.
“This funding has enabled the development of key expertise in the engineering disciplines of rocket propulsion technology, launch vehicle design and flight dynamics modelling, as well as the development of appreciable scarce skills. It has also enabled unique co-operation between the university and industry,” he said.
The ASReG team included 18 postgraduate and undergraduate students who contributed to the success of the launch through their innovative research. These students are products of ASReG’s DSI-funded transformation-centred talent pipeline programme.
Dean and Head of UKZN’s School of Engineering, Professor Glen Bright said: “This launch constitutes a deliverable on our DSI Space Propulsion Programme funding grant, under the category of technology demonstration. We are thrilled at the outcome and are very proud of our students whose meticulous work, dedication and commitment contributed to this success.”
“This launch is the culmination of months of preparation. We had to move an entire rocket team, its launch platform, two rockets, multiple back-up parts, computer equipment and everything that goes with it 1 700km across the country. It was a massive undertaking, but the work has paid off,” said a delighted and relieved Pitot.