UKZN rocket scientist shoots into Top 10
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Durban - While Durban rocket scientist Kai Broughton, 27, would jump at the chance to go into space, it’s the engineering behind space rockets which drives him.
Yesterday it was announced by the University of KwaZulu-Natal that Broughton, who is a propulsion engineer in the Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG) and a UKZN PhD candidate, has been named among the African Space Industry’s Top Ten Under 30 by the Space in Africa news agency.
Describing it as “an honour to be chosen as one of this year’s class of young people contributing to the industry”, Broughton joins two other South Africans, as well as young scientists from Angola, Ghana, Morocco, Ethiopia and Nigeria in the top 10 Africa ranking.
They will be recognised at the 2020 New Space Africa Conference to be held in Ethiopia in November.
“These young people continue to display outstanding courage and contributions to the industry, reminding us at all times that Africa is ready to take a place in the global space market,” the organisation said.
Speaking to the Independent on Saturday yesterday, Broughton said there was an exciting future ahead for South Africa when it came to capacity for launching aerospace vehicles and technology.
“I’ve always been interested in aerospace, but I think it was my exposure to space exploration and technology during my undergrad years and while doing my Master’s degree which brought me into the field.
“Anyone would obviously have to have a passion for space to be in the industry, but for me it’s more the aerospace and design systems, the engineering behind space technology, which is my passion. It’s the cutting edge of engineering and it’s quite cool,” he said.
Broughton said there was a huge market gap in Africa in the aerospace industry and launching satellites into space would create jobs, expertise in the industry and attract investment.
He said this was possible if the country could develop critical infrastructure and expertise, as well as capitalising on the knowledge of engineers and researchers who formed part of South Africa’s early launch vehicle programmes.
He is currently working on liquid rocket propulsion systems and static test facilities, laying the foundation for an indigenous satellite launch capability. He is also working on ignition systems for a number of engines under development by ASReG. His work at ASReG contributes to his PhD research, which is in the area of liquid rocket engine design.
And when he’s not busy with that, he is also working part-time as the lead engineer for the Phoenix-1B hybrid sounding rocket project, developing and upgrading two sounding rockets to be launched by the end of the year, which he describes as “my hobby”.
And while his work in the engineering sector of space industry keeps him firmly on the ground, he said: “While it’s highly unlikely, of course I would like to go into space. I’d never miss an opportunity like that - although my fiancée would kill me,” he quipped.
Dr Jean Pitot, leader of ASReG, said the team was proud of Broughton’s contributions to the group’s objective of developing technologies and human capital to enable South African space access.
“Over and above his dedication, determination and spirit of innovation, this prestigious recognition is testament to his remarkable abilities as a young engineer.
“His accomplishments, along with those achieved by the rest of our team, demonstrate beyond a doubt that South Africa has the depth of engineering talent required to establish an indigenous launch capability that is commercially competitive and able to service Africa’s space launch needs,” said Pitot.
Professor Mike Brooks, the academic leader of UKZN Mechanical Engineering, described the young rocket scientist as a highly talented engineer.
“ASReG is fortunate to have top-flight engineers working on incredibly complex aerospace propulsion systems, and this award rightfully recognises the technological strides that Kai, and the group, have made as we pursue a commercial rocket launch capability for South Africa,” said Brooks.
The Independent on Saturday