UKZN’s liquid propellant rocket engine ABLE proves to be a success

An aerial view of the UKZN liquid rocket engine test facility with the ABLE firing. Picture: Supplied.

An aerial view of the UKZN liquid rocket engine test facility with the ABLE firing. Picture: Supplied.

Published Dec 2, 2021


The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has successfully tested a liquid propellant rocket engine through its Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG).

According to the university, this is the first step towards developing a launch vehicle for placing satellites into Earth's orbit.

The motor, Ablative Blow-down Liquid Engine (ABLE), was created by mechanical engineering students in the Master's and Doctoral programmes at UKZN.

The ABLE was tested by ten mechanical engineering students at the Denel Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape over a period of three weeks.

Chief Director of Space Science and Technology, Humbulani Mudau, said he is extremely proud to be part of the groundbreaking initiative.

“Truly, I feel the future of this country and the continent is safe in the hands of such a strong-willed, hard-working team. Keep pushing, team – this partnership is soaring to new heights," Mudau said.

For the test campaign, the students built the engine and performed it at a state-of-the-art facility with propellant storage tanks, an automated engine control system, and a thrust stand to restrain the engine throughout its operation.

“The cutting-edge technology the team has consistently produced to get us to this point has been awe-inspiring. The project demonstrates the calibre of young engineers we have in this country – not only in the tests we successfully conducted but also in the exemplary work ethic, dedication and drive the team exhibits,” he said.

South African First Integrated Rocket Engine (SAFFIRE) Engine Programme manager at UKZN, Dr Jean Pitot, was also impressed with the country’s engineers and their potential.

"The overwhelming success of our recent ABLE rocket engine test campaign is testament to the profound ability of young South African engineers to find globally competitive solutions to today's grand engineering challenges.

"The rapid evolution of society's interaction with space over the past decade has been astonishing and is set to accelerate as the services offered by burgeoning space-based enterprises become integral to our daily lives," Dr Pitot continued.

"The ASReG team is proud of the leading role that UKZN is playing in laying the technical foundations for a sovereign space launch capability that will provide Africa with direct access to the space economy,” said Pitot.