UKZN celebrates another successful rocket launch at the Overberg Test Range in Arniston

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The Minister of Higher Education Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, congratulates the Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) for the successful test launch of its Phoenix 1D hybrid rocket demonstrator. The Phoenix 1 D was carrying experimental sensors and cameras as part of the mission.  

ASRI, formerly known as the Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG), is funded by the Department of Science and Innovation.  It is pursuing the development of suborbital sounding rockets (Phoenix) and orbital liquid rocket engine technology (SAFFIRE) under one integrated Space Propulsion Programme.

"I am proud of the young people driving this exciting programme at UKZN. They are a team of dedicated mechanical engineering students who have been working tirelessly on ensuring that the launch is successful," said Minister Nzimande.

He praised the Phoenix hybrid rocket programme, which is a skills-development initiative focused 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 as one of the key drivers in addressing South Africa's national priorities of job creation, poverty eradication, resource management and rural development.

UKZN is currently the only South African university pursuing an applied rocket propulsion programme, producing graduates with skills in advanced manufacturing, aerospace systems design, rocket launch operations and computational analysis.

The team is now preparing for the second and final test for the campaign, that of the Phoenix 1C, a low-altitude rocket and, weather-permitting, it will be launched with experimental payloads for the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), SANSA and a private company that the engineers hope to recover.

Both vehicles include design changes to the airframes and onboard systems that make them structurally more efficient, and form a critical part of ASRI’s mission to develop larger, orbital launch systems.

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 significant for South African engineering and the development of African satellite rocket launch capability.

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 hybrid rockets were developed as a technology demonstration platform from which a future commercial sounding rocket programme can be developed.

The programme, a human capital development initiative, started in 2010, has produced a number of graduates with advanced engineering skills, and who have been absorbed into South Africa’s engineering sector with entities including Rheinmetall Denel Munition, SANSA, the CSIR and Armscor Human capital development is the main objective of the programme, together with developing indigenous space propulsion technologies.

The main objectives of the programme are human capital development and the development of indigenous space propulsion technologies.

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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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