Rocket built by UKZN students ready for takeoff

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa is testing its Phoenix-1B Mark 2 hybrid sounding rocket at the Denel Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape today. The project is being funded by the South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST).

It has been confirmed that the day’s weather conditions will be critical to the success of the launch; otherwise it may result in the launch being postponed to a later date.

According to the DST, a key point of difference between sounding rockets and rockets that are used to launch satellites is that sounding rockets carry payloads on sub-orbital flights, which immediately return to earth, whereas satellite launch vehicles fly payloads into orbit around the earth. South Africa does not offer a sounding rocket launch programme to support the country’s or the African continent’s scientific endeavours, which means local scientists wishing to make use of such a capability are required to contract international launch services.

For example, none of the satellites launched by South Africa was launched in South Africa which creates a big gap in the space launch segment of the industry.

ZAROCKET aims to break the 10 km barrier today, says Vulinhlanhla Mchunu, a final year Mechanical Engineering student of UKZN.

UKZN and DST aim to create an indigenous series of sounding rockets to serve the needs of the South African and African scientific research communities.

The Phoenix Hybrid Sounding Rocket Program (HSRP) was started at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in 2010 within the School of Engineering’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). The program started in the context of the South African government’s prioritisation of skills and resource development in space-related research. South Africa does not offer a sounding rocket launch service in support of the country’s or the African continent’s scientific endeavours who have to instead use expensive foreign sounding rocket service providers.

The objectives of the program are:

  1. to develop a series of civilian sounding rockets that have the capacity to meet the requirements of the South African and African scientific communities.
  2. to stimulate novel research into hybrid propulsion systems at UKZN.
  3. to inspire students to pursue graduate studies at the School.
  4. to generate interest in rocket propulsion, flight dynamics and airframe design in South Africa generally.

The work done in the program includes:

  1. Hybrid Rocket Performance Simulator (HYROPS) code.
  2. Hybrid Rocket Performance Code (HRPC).
  3. Lab-scale and flight-scale hybrid rocket motor development and testing.
  4. Laboratory-scale test facility.
  5. Development of hybrid sounding rocket vehicles.
  6. Hybrid motor closed-loop throttling.
  7. Metallised fuel grain research.
  8. Filament-wound oxidiser tank development.

The program has developed two flight vehicles to date with the third currently in development:

  1. Phoenix-1A
  2. Phoenix-1B
  3. Phoenix-1B Mk II

The rocket is set to propel for 140 seconds & thereafter it will disintegrate into powder with nothing to recover – flown using wax from SASOL, titanium &laughing gas to propel says Jean Pitot of ASREG (Aerospace Systems Research Group, UKZN)


#ZAROCKET test launch sees successful ignition, but with some hiccups. Still have to asses how high the rocket traveled.

— Taslima (@Dsttviljoen) February 18, 2019