Durban – Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation has announced a campaign to test two hybrid rockets, Phoenix-1C and Phoenix-1D.
The ministry said in a statement on Monday that tests are expected to be run by ASRI from March 13 to 17, 2023, at the Denel Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape.
Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) funds the space programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Aerospace Research Institute (ASRI), the former Aerospace Research Systems Research Group (ASReG) and Phoenix Space Propulsion Programme (SPP).
Nzimande said In March 2021, ASReG successfully launched the Phoenix-1B Mark IIr sounding rocket. It travelled 17.9km into the air, achieving a new African hybrid-rocket altitude record.
He said the 2021 launch was hugely significant for South African engineering and the development of an African satellite rocket launch capability.
The minister added that the Phoenix-1B Mark IIr was the third rocket variant to be developed by ASReG.
The first, the Phoenix-1A, was flight tested in 2014 but experienced a nozzle failure that limited its altitude and the second launch, in 2019, of the Phoenix-1B Mark II, was unsuccessful because of a software fault.
Nzimande said that valuable lessons were learnt from past failures, which helped with the successful launch of the cost-effective Phoenix-1B Mark IIr.
"The Phoenix-1B Mark IIr hybrid rocket was developed by postgraduate students under the supervision of ASReG, reaching almost 18km and a velocity of twice the speed of sound," Nzimande said.
He also said the Phoenix-1C, which will be tested this week, is a low-altitude rocket that will carry experimental payloads for the Durban University of Technology, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, and the South African National Space Agency. It has a target of 5 -10km and expects to recover its nose cone under a parachute.
According to Nzimande, Phoenix-1D is a higher-altitude rocket and, weather-permitting, it will be launched out over the Indian Ocean, unrecovered, to be tracked by radar from lift-off to ocean impact. If conditions are good, the Phoenix-1D will reach an altitude of up to 25km.
"The continued advancement and sustainability of the industry will also present opportunities to turn South Africa into a knowledge-based economy, to promote human capacity development and a launching capability in particular, and to play a key role in implementing an African space policy and strategy.
“To ensure the long-term progression and sustainability of the South African space industry, the South African space programme must unlock dedicated investment for exploring the country's space capabilities," Nzimande said.