Aerospace Systems Research Institute Unveils Model of Orbital Rocket at National Space Conference
UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI) was prominent at South Africa’s inaugural National Space Conference held in Pretoria, attracting national attention with the unveiling of a one-quarter scale model of its commercial launch vehicle (CLV).
The rocket model, more than 5m tall, was constructed by an ASRI team under the guidance of Senior Engineer Mr Nino Wunderlin, conference participants were told by the Director-General of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Dr Phil Mjwara, and the Chief of the South African Air Force, Lieutenant-General Wiseman Mbambo.
The CLV is a design concept for a small-satellite carrier rocket that has been developed by ASRI engineers to provide South Africa and the African continent with sovereign access to orbital space.
CLV is a two-stage rocket propelled by 10 South African First Integrated Rocket Engine (SAFFIRE) liquid propellant engines under development by ASRI engineers. The technology architectures of the launch vehicle and its engines are configured to reduce development time and cost, and to leverage strengths within the South African industry.
Once built, the CLV carrier rocket will be launched from the Denel Overberg Test Range in the Western Cape, which is uniquely situated in Africa to support the launch of satellites to polar orbits. The rocket has a planned satellite payload capacity of 200kg which it can place into 500 km sun-synchronous orbit. The full-scale rocket will be 19.9m high, weigh more than 19 tons at launch and will be powered by propelled engines operating on kerosene and liquid oxygen (LOX).
The National Space Conference is hosted by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the South African National Space Agency and the South African Air Force. UKZN was one of only two universities to exhibit aerospace hardware at the event. ASRI personnel were on hand to discuss their work with interested participants who were attracted to the exhibit by the items on display. ASRI was represented by Mr Yashik Singh, Mr Thabang Mdhluli and Mr Jordan Silver, assisted by ASRI undergraduate intern Mr Philani Ngcobo.
In addition to the CLV model, ASRI also unveiled the first ground-test version of its SAFFIRE liquid rocket engine during a special event on the opening morning of the conference. Later in the day, Professor Jean Pitot delivered a well-received presentation on CLV’s mission capabilities and its future role in launching satellites for South African and global customers.
ASRI is funded by the DSI and was launched 14 years ago as the UKZN Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). The University received elevated ASReG’s status to that of Institute last year and now has two flagship activities: the SAFFIRE liquid rocket engine programme and the Phoenix sounding rocket programme.
The objective of the SAFFIRE programme is to develop low-cost modular rocket engines for the CLV as well as an array of other technologies such as propellant tanks, aerostructures and avionics.
As part of UKZN’s exhibit at the conference, ASRI also displayed a Phoenix rocket that was flown by students in 2021. The Phoenix programme develops small suborbital sounding rockets propelled by hybrid rocket motors and serves as ASRI’s human capital development engine, exposing postgraduate and undergraduate students to real-world aerospace design, fabrication, and testing activities.
The UKZN exhibit in the conference main hall attracted considerable attention, with the unveiling of the CLV model drawing interest and inquiries.
After the conference, the CLV model was moved to the DSI headquarters in Pretoria, where it has been placed on permanent display in the atrium of the building as a testament to UKZN’s prominent role in South Africa’s growing space programme.