The record-breaking Phoenix-1B Mk IIr hybrid rocket.
The record-breaking Phoenix-1B Mk IIr hybrid rocket.

UKZN’s Phoenix rocket smashes African altitude record

By Brandstories Time of article published Apr 1, 2021

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By Sally Frost

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) much-anticipated Phoenix hybrid rocket test flight at the world-class Denel Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape was a resounding, record-breaking success.

The successful flight, which took place earlier this month, saw the Phoenix-1B Mk IIr vehicle soar to a new high-altitude mark of 17.9 kilometres for hybrid rockets, beating the previous African record of 10.3km.

“The team was delighted to see all its hard work come to fruition with a picture-perfect flight, which exceeded our expectations,” said Dr Jean Pitot, leader of UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG).

UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group with the Phoenix-1B Mk I hybrid rocket.

ASReG’s Phoenix Hybrid Rocket Programme is a skills development initiative that focuses on suborbital launch vehicle design and testing.

“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,” Pitot said.

“Internationally, sounding rockets continue to play a crucial role in the facilitation of experiments conducted in a wide variety of scientific disciplines including bio-technology, astronomy, astrophysics, materials science and meteorology, among many others,” explained academic leader for Mechanical Engineering at UKZN, Professor Michael Brooks. “They also serve as valuable test platforms for aerospace technologies related to commercial satellite launch vehicles.”

The Phoenix-Mk IIr suborbital rocket that was successfully tested was developed as a technology demonstration platform.

Brooks acknowledged 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. These students are products of ASReG’s DSI-funded transformation-centred talent pipeline programme.

Lead engineer on the Phoenix campaign was UKZN PhD student Kai Broughton. A winner of the prestigious Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) merit medal and a cum laude UKZN MSc Mechanical Engineering graduate, Broughton has been named among the African space industry’s Top 10 Under 30s by the Space in Africa news agency.

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