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UKZN launches the Aerospace Systems Research Institute

Home Transport & Logistics Air UKZN launches the Aerospace Systems Research Institute

THE University of KwaZulu-Natal is officially launching its Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI)with a series of events being held this week. ASRI runs one of the largest university-based aerospace research programmes in South Africa and focuses on the design, development and testing of aerospace propulsion and flight systems, including rocket engines, turbopumps and turbomachinery, suborbital and orbital (space) launch vehicles and novel propellants. Since 2009, UKZN engineers have built and tested numerous research rocket motors and flown several suborbital rockets.

Notable technical achievements include the establishment of a new African altitude record for suborbital hybrid rockets, the development and testing of the most powerful university-built liquid rocket engine on the African continent and the development of unique ground test facilities for hybrid and liquid (cryogenic) rocket propulsion systems. All of these activities are aligned with ASRI’s driving aim to develop an indigenous, commercial space launch capability for South Africa.

ASRI is located in UKZN’s Mechanical Engineering discipline and was formally established by the Council of the University in 2022. Its forerunner, ASReG, was established in 2009 to conduct applied research in aerospace engineering and develop highly skilled engineers for the South African economy. The institute receives support for its research from the Department of Science and Innovation.

Launch programme events

Launch events include a public lecture hosted on 29 April at UKZN’s Westville campus. At this event, ASRI director, Professor Michael Brooks spoke on ‘Forging an African Space Launch Capability – the Story of the Aerospace Systems Research Institute’.

He said that for fifteen years UKZN engineers have been researching the machines that fly higher and faster than any other, and touched on what it takes to design, build and fly rockets.

He introduced ASRI to the UKZN community and explained how the institute’s engineers go about their work. With the help of UKZN and the Department of Science and Innovation, ASRI personnel are working towards the development of a homegrown commercial launch vehicle that is designed to place satellites in orbit from South African soil. Brooks explained that the science of rocketry is technically challenging and requires the development of an entire ecosystem of technologies and capabilities.

Professor Michael Brooks is the founding director of the Aerospace Systems Research Institute and an associate professor in UKZN’s Mechanical Engineering discipline. Professor Brooks is a member of both the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering (SAIMechE) and the Aeronautical Society of South Africa (AeSSA) and is a registered Professional Engineer. He is a senior member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a Fulbright scholar and a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

On 30 April at the Howard College Campus, a seminar was held taking a ‘Deep Dive into ASRI’s Rocket Research Activities. This included a set of presentations by ASRI engineering personnel. The seminar comprised brief talks of 10 minutes each, covering topics such as the flight performance of a Phoenix hybrid rocket, the design and ground-testing of UKZN’s powerful ABLE liquid rocket engine, the development of electronics payloads for suborbital rockets, and the phenomenon of slosh and novel chemical propellants. ASRI’s rocket scientists introduced the inspiring world of supersonic flight and gave attendees an idea of what it takes to design and build the mightiest of flying machines.

The official launch event takes place on 2 May at the Howard College Campus and the launch week concludes with a high school workshop on rockets and rocketry on 3 May.

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