Two new Phoenix test rockets to be launched by DSI and UKZN

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, is proud to announce the testing campaign of two hybrid rockets, Phoenix-1C and Phoenix-1D.  The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) funds the space programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Aerospace Research Institute (ASRI), the former Aerospace Research Systems Research Group (ASReG), Phoenix Space Propulsion Programme (SPP).

Weather permitting, the tests are expected to be run by ASRI from the 13 to 17 March 2023 at the Denel Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape.

ASReG, is pursuing the development of sub-orbital sounding rockets (Phoenix) and orbital liquid rocket engine technology (Saffire) under one integrated SPP.  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 range of scientific disciplines, including biotechnology, astronomy, astrophysics, materials science and meteorology.  

In March 2021, ASReG successfully launched the Phoenix-1B Mark IIr sounding rocket. It travelled 17,9 km into the air, achieving a new African hybrid-rocket altitude record.  The 2021 launch was hugely significant for South African engineering and the development of an African satellite rocket launch capability.  

The Phoenix-1B Mark IIr was the third rocket variant to be developed by ASReG.  The first, the Phoenix-1A, was flight tested in 2014, but experienced a nozzle failure that limited its altitude.  The second launch, in 2019, of the Phoenix-1B Mark II, was unsuccessful because of a software fault.  Valuable lessons were learnt from past failures, which helped with the successful launch of the cost-effective Phoenix-1B Mark IIr.  

"The Phoenix-1B Mark IIr hybrid rocket was developed by postgraduate students under the supervision of ASReG, reaching almost 18 km and a velocity of twice the speed of sound," said Minister Nzimande.  

The Phoenix-1C, which will be tested this week, is a low-altitude rocket that will carry experimental payloads for the Durban University of Technology, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the South African National Space Agency.  It has a target of 5 to 10 km, expectations to recover its nose cone under a parachute.

The Phoenix-1D is a higher-altitude rocket and, weather-permitting, it will be launched out over the Indian Ocean, unrecovered, to be tracked by radar from lift-off to ocean impact.  If conditions are good, the Phoenix-1D will reach an altitude of up to 25 km.

Both vehicles include design changes that should improve performance.  It is exciting to test them out to gradually enhance South Africa's efforts of lifting the altitude capability of our suborbital rockets.

The Minister praised the Phoenix Hybrid Rocket Programme, which is a skills-development initiative that focuses on suborbital launch vehicle design and testing.  The rockets were developed as a technology demonstration platform from which future commercial sounding rocket programmes can be developed.

Minister Nzimande added that the space industry is envisaged to be one of the key drivers 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 will also present opportunities to turn South Africa into a knowledge-based economy, to promote human capacity development and a launching capability in particular, and to play a key role in implementing an African space policy and strategy.  To ensure the long-term progression and sustainability of the South African space industry, the South African space programme must unlock dedicated investment for exploring the country's space capabilities," said the Minister.

UKZN 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.  The programme started in 2010 with the main objective of human capital development as well as developing indigenous space propulsion technologies.

For more information, please contact Taslima Viljoen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 082 990 1685.  

Issued by the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Innovation.

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