Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Sign Cooperation Agreement on Rocket Propulsion – as an early step for a commercial satellite land vehicle.


RDM and UKZN have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to cooperate in the
development of new rocket propulsion technologies, including collaborating on a liquid
propellant rocket engine project named SAFFIRE.

The SAFFIRE initiative – South African First Integrated Rocket Engine – is a project created
by UKZN’s Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG). ASReG runs the only university-based launch vehicle propulsion programme in South Africa, and is supported by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). The immediate aim of SAFFIRE is the development of a compact rocket engine that can be clustered to power the first and second stages of a commercial small-satellite launch vehicle.

RDM will support the programme with element design, analysis and the manufacturing of key components, as well as the static evaluation of these rocket engines.

ASReG is located within UKZN’s Discipline of Mechanical Engineering where more than a dozen graduate students are currently enrolled in Masters and Doctoral degrees focusing on rocket engine design, turbomachinery and associated technologies, such as airframe design and launch systems. The research group’s two primary objectives are to; develop aerospace technologies related to rockets, spacecraft and turbomachine systems in support of an indigenous South African space launch capability, and develope highly skilled engineers for the South African aerospace industry.

RDM, was the primary developer and manufacturer of the space launch propulsion systems for South Africa’s space programme. Solid rocket propulsion systems were used to launch payloads of more than 350 kg into low-Earth orbit. This programme was shelved in 1994 and the focus moved towards missile propulsion systems for inter alia Denel Dynamics’ Umkhonto, A-Darter, Ingwe and Mokopa missiles and other international clinets. The result thereof is that most of this strategic propulsion capability still exists within RDM today.