Student Payloads Take Flight on Phoenix-1C!

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN’s) Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI) Space Propulsion Programme has successfully test-launched its Phoenix 1C and 1D rockets from the Overberg Test Range, on the east coast of South Africa.

The hybrid test rocket took off from the Western Cape facility on Monday 13 March, carrying experimental sensors and cameras as part of the mission. The Phoenix-1D reached an altitude of 25 km. The second and final test for the campaign, that of the Phoenix 1C, a low-altitude rocket, was launched with experimental payloads from MaxIQ Space.

The five MaxIQ payloads were contributed by five schools:
 Parklands College from Cape Town, South Africa
 Montgomery High School from Princeton, New Jersey, USA
 Mountain View Elementary School, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
 Nipmuc Regional High School from Upton, Massachusetts USA
 Stockbridge Junior/Senior High School from Stockton, Michigan USA

The schools provided their MaxIQ hardware configurations and code, and all the payloads were assembled by the MaxIQ team in Cape Town, South Africa. The integrated payloads were sent through to the ASRI team for integration into the payload bay.

On the day of launch, the team struggled with high winds that made it very difficult to predict the impact point of the rocket in the event of the separation of the nose cone from the 1C booster. The decision was made to launch under less-than-ideal weather conditions as the primary mission was to test the rocket. Unfortunately, the payloads were not recovered. Recovery was not guaranteed, it is predicted that the payload was destroyed when the rocket hit the Indian
Ocean at over 200 meters/second. The students from the schools are participating in the MaxIQ Space suborbital launch challenge and use test missions such as this to test their payloads and code.

In November 2022, the teams conducted a static engine test, collecting data using their payloads, to measure the efficiency of a bio-derived fuel. Each test brings learning to be incorporated into designs. The Phoenix project was an opportunity to test the payload integration hardware and power solution for the first time. Hybrid rockets used solid fuel with a liquid oxidiser. Purely solid-fuelled rockets are easier to handle but their thrust cannot be controlled and they are not as efficient as liquid-fuelled rockets. While more complex, liquid-fuelled rockets are capable of being throttled, shut down, and restarted.

ASRI, formerly known as the Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG), is pursuing the development of suborbital sounding rockets (Phoenix) and orbital liquid rocket engine technology (SAFFIRE) under one integrated Space Propulsion Programme. The Phoenix hybrid rocket programme is a Space STEM 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.

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

On 14 March the programme presented a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Space Day hosting a group of learners from Parkland College. The learners attended a lecture on rocket technology, experience a radio-controlled aircraft demonstration and visited the ASRI Phoenix launch pad to have a close-up view of a hybrid rocket. Sounding rockets 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.

About MaxIQ Space:
MaxIQ Space’s rapid hardware development platform is specifically designed and manufactured for STEM applications in schools and universities. Using commercial standard electronics components, students are able to design and build circuits, code using multiple formats and conduct experiments, without specialist equipment or lab. MaxIQ Space’s programs are developed to remove barriers to participation in the growing STEM academic field and economy. Through building, experimenting, and creating working electronic devices, crafters, students, and tinkerers learn critical STEM skills, including coding,
electronics, data gathering and analysis, control, and all the principles of Internet of Things (IoT), while engaging with the sensory environment around them.

This approach uniquely bridges the virtual worlds of software, the cloud, and big data, with students’ real-world surroundings. MaxIQ Space is recognised globally as the leader in Space STEM projects having launched over eighty student satellites, with planned launches into the future. Contact Judi Sandrock

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