File photo\: Nasa says a Black Brant IX suborbital rocket was launched at 5am on Thursday from the agency's Wallops Island Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The University of KwaZulu-Natal will launch its Phoenix-1B sounding rocket at the Denel Overberg Test Range (OTR) in the Western Cape this week.
DURBAN - The University of KwaZulu-Natal will launch its Phoenix-1B sounding rocket at the Denel Overberg Test Range (OTR) in the Western Cape this week.

The rocket, developed by the university’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG), was part of its flagship Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme, which was initiated in 2010.

The Phoenix-1B Mark 2 sounding rocket represents the pinnacle of the Phoenix Programme’s research efforts.

This programme was to develop a series of sounding rockets capable of meeting the needs of the South African and African scientific communities.

ASReG received significant funding from the Department of Science and Technology in support of the Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme.

Sounding rockets are rocket-propelled launch vehicles used to carry experimental payloads to the upper reaches of the atmosphere or into space.

The key difference - between sounding rockets and rockets that are used to launch satellites - is that sounding rockets carry payloads on suborbital flights, which immediately return to Earth, whereas satellite launch vehicles fly payloads into orbit around the Earth.

This makes sounding rockets ideal for experimentation purposes, such as astronomy, astrophysics, biotechnology, materials science and meteorology.

At just short of 5m in length and a lift-off mass of 88kg, the hybrid rocket motor of the Phoenix-1B Mark 2 produces a peak thrust of about 700kg and will operate for around 15 seconds.

Flight trajectory simulations indicate that the Mark 2 will achieve a maximum altitude of about 15km above sea level, and a maximum speed of over two times the speed of sound.

The Phoenix Programme pursues the development of hybrid rocket motors to provide propulsive power to its sounding rockets, providing a number of advantages - chief among them is the inherent operational safety which permits research.

The programme has seen three sounding rockets developed:

* Phoenix-1A, served to provide the technical foundation for the programme,

* The Mark 1 and Mark 2 variants of the Phoenix-1B rocket have been developed roughly in parallel, and have both been successfully ground tested and,

* The Mark 2 variant, developed by current postgraduate students Kai Broughton and Dylan Williams, is the variant that will be flighted.

The university hopes to undergo flight testing in 2020 for the Mark 1 variant, developed by past postgraduate student, Udil Balmogim.

- THE MERCURY