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Overberg sounding rocket fails to take off

As part of a University of KwaZulu-Natal programme to develop expertise in rocket propulsion technology, the Phoenix 1B sounding rocket was launched on Monday.

Phoenix 1B rocket. Picture: Kevin Brandt/EWN

CAPE TOWN - A sounding rocket launch had a slightly different outcome to what was initially hoped for, as the device failed to take off in Overberg.

Experts, however, say they can still learn a lot from the exercise.

As part of a University of KwaZulu-Natal programme to develop expertise in rocket propulsion technology, the Phoenix 1B sounding rocket was launched on Monday afternoon.

The launch was carried out at arms manufacturer Denel's Overberg Test Range facility outside Arniston.

Students and technicians line up to launch the sounding rocket into the sub-orbital space.

The rocket is just under five metres long and weighs approximately 700 kilograms.

In the industry, sounding rockets are used to gather data about a particular matter in the atmosphere and other earth systems, after which it immediately returns back to earth.

The university's Dr Mike Brooks says an investigation will now be undertaken to determine why the rocket failed to launch to the desired height.

"We don't actually know what the cause of the failure was. What we have to do now is to undertake a forensic investigation of this and look into the high-speed camera footage and the parts of the vehicle that we recovered."

The Department of Science and Technology contributed about R15-million towards the running of the project.

Experts say Monday's exercise gives students practical experience around the mechanical workings of rockets, in particular, its launching mechanisms.

The Denel Overberg Test Range has been in operation for the past 22 years.

On-site managers say tests at the facility are carried out in conjunction with environmental experts to ensure no damage is done to the surrounding environment.

(Edited by Mihlali Ntsabo)

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