Test Rocket-Phoenix-1B Mark IIr launches successfully in the Overberg

Rocket 1


The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande,  has congratulated the developers of the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Phoenix-1B Mark IIr sounding rocket on their successful test launch that took place at the Denel Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape on 8 March 2021.  The successful launch saw the test rocket travel 17,9 km into the air achieving a new African hybrid rocket altitude record. The Minister said the launch is hugely significant for South African engineering and the development of African satellite rocket launch capability.

The Phoenix-1B Mark IIr is the third rocket variant to be developed by the UKZN's Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG), which is funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).  The first, the Phoenix-1A, was flight tested in 2014, but experienced a nozzle failure, which limited altitude. The second launch, in 2019, of the Phoenix-1B Mark II, was unsuccessful because of a software fault in the code that controlled the opening and closing of the main oxidizer valve. Valuable lessons were learnt from past failures, which assisted in today's successful launch of the cost-effective Phoenix-1B Mark IIr, a revised version of the Mark II lost in 2019.

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

The Phoenix-1B Mark IIr hybrid rocket, developed by postgraduate students under the supervision of ASReG, reached an altitude of 17,9 km and a velocity of twice the speed of sound. The rocket was launched seawards and was not recovered.

The Minister said that this success was a historic moment for South African space science.

"This is a game-changer for South African space science and positions the country to take the lead on the continent in the development of rocket launch capabilities," said Dr Nzimande.

It is envisaged that the space industry will be one of the key drivers and instruments in addressing South Africa's national priorities of job creation, poverty eradication, resource management and rural development.  The continued advancement and sustainability of the industry would also present opportunities to turn South Africa into a knowledge-based economy, promotion of human capacity development in launching capability in particular, and playing a key role in the implementation of African Space Policy and Strategy.  To ensure the long-term progression and sustainability of the South African space industry, the South African space programme is required to unlock dedicated investment for exploring the country's space capabilities

"Recent disruptive satellite technology trends are reshaping the traditional launch market using launch technologies with a reduced entry barrier (cost and complexity) and leveraging significant South African heritage technologies. The target market is commercial small satellite launches with payload of 200 kg to an altitude of 500 km, and sounding rocket launches into space from Overberg Test Range," said Dr Mmboneni Muofhe, the Department’s Deputy Director-General of Technology Innovation.

He explained that the ASReG programme was a multi-pronged strategy through which South Africa was developing human capital, and projects like the Phoenix-1B Mark IIr provided opportunities to do just that.

Dr Muofhe said that the government would continue to invest in the project, which was resulting in critical research and development in engineering, infrastructure and technology.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal is currently the only South African university pursuing an applied rocket propulsion programme, producing graduates with skills in advanced manufacturing, aerospace systems design, and computational analysis.

Sounding rockets are rocket-propelled launch vehicles that carry experimental payloads to the upper reaches of the atmosphere or into space.  They play a crucial role in facilitating experiments in a wide variety of scientific disciplines, including biotechnology, astronomy, astrophysics, materials science and meteorology.  The Phoenix-1B Mark IIr hybrid rocket was developed as a technology demonstration platform from which a future commercial sounding rocket programme can be developed.

The DSI is funding the ASReG programme, which has enabled UKZN to develop key expertise in the engineering disciplines of rocket propulsion technology, launch vehicle design and flight dynamics modelling.  It has also enabled unique cooperation between the university and industry.

The programme started in 2010, and a number of students involved in it are now working in key technical positions in institutions such as Armscor, Milkor and Rheinmetall Denel Munition. This is the main objective of the programme, together with developing indigenous space propulsion technologies.

Rocket 2

Please find the following video clips of rocket launch.

Behind Angle-1.mp4

Facing Up-1.mp4

Side View-1.mp4

Issued by the Department of Science and Technology and UKZN.

For more information contact Veronica Mohapeloa at 082 882 3818 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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