UKZN launches a rocket engine targeted at satellite launch vehicle

UKZN launches a rocket engine targeted at satellite launch vehicle

The ASReG (Aerospace Systems Research Group) at University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has successfully evaluated the liquid propellant rocket engine; being the very first step toward building a launch vehicle to place satellites into Earth orbit. Mechanical engineering master’s and doctoral students at University of KwaZulu-Natal invented the ABLE (Ablative Blow-down Liquid Engine).

ASReG is working on ideas for the commercial launch vehicle that can put satellites up to 200 kilograms into the orbit for agriculture, communications, Earth observation and environmental monitoring. According to a news statement from the UKZN, the successful operation of the ABLE will allows the group to start work on the flight-weight engine to fuel the proposed rocket.

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) is supporting Space Propulsion Programme of ASReG by completely sponsoring sounding rocket development study and the liquid propulsion program, as well as the students engaged.

The fruitful ABLE test campaign lasted three weeks at Denel Overberg Test Range situated in the Western Cape. To evaluate SAFFIRE ABLE rocket engine, 10 mechanical engineering students ran it through its lengths on a test stand. The ABLE is a tiny satellite launch vehicle engine that burns liquid oxygen (LOX) plus jet A-1 fuel to provide slightly under two tons of thrust. Its architecture is comparable to that of the newest compact satellite launch vehicles.

Students not only manufactured the engine, but also designed and qualified the state-of-the-art test facility that included propellant storage tanks, automated engine control system, and a thrust platform to constrain the engine during its operation for the test campaign.

In a sequence of brief and long-duration burns, the ABLE generated 18 kilonewtons (roughly 1.8 tons) of thrust. Ablative Blow-down Liquid Engine is among the most powerful liquid rocket engines ever made by students, according to the UKZN. Although there are larger commercial engines in service, ABLE is among the most sophisticated student-created liquid rocket engines ever manufactured.

“This development strengthens UKZN’s status as a South African hub of competence in aeronautical propulsion engineering.” In March of this year, ASReG successfully propelled a Phoenix rocket to a height of 18 kilometers, breaking the African hybrid rocket elevation record. The UKZN explained that “ABLE is a new kind of engine, working on liquid propellants instead of the solid and liquid mix of the Phoenix rocket.”

“UKZN and ASReG are in a strong position to hasten the production of a commercial launch vehicle by mastering liquid rocket engine technology.” The ultimate objectives are to establish an African satellite deployment capability, promote South Africa’s indigenous satellite as well as space data companies, and improve the country’s 4th industrial revolution (4IR) readiness.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal is now the sole South African university that offers an applied rocket propulsion degree, which prepares graduates in aerospace systems design, advanced manufacturing, and computational analysis.

The program began in 2010, and several graduates are already employed in significant technical roles at companies such as Milkor, Armscor, as well as Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM).

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