SA firm readies space rocket

2012-10-15 14:01
A model of a Marcom space vehicle is displayed at the Observatory in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

A model of a Marcom space vehicle is displayed at the Observatory in Cape Town. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - A South African company hopes to stretch local engineering capacity by building a rocket and conducting launches to space.

"You don't need to be a gambler; you need to, first of all, have the technical capability to do it," Marcom managing director Mark Comninos told News24.

"You have to have the manpower versed in business as well as the technical aspects in designing, developing; testing rocket engines," he added.

Comninos began the company in 2002 after carrying out a two year feasibility study on South African capability, examining international best practice and space system evaluations.

"I selected those systems that would provide the most cost-effective launch vehicle or affordable launch vehicle that we could produce in South Africa," he said.


Comninos' proposal at the SA Space Association Congress in Cape Town revealed that most of the work had already been done and the company is seeking private funding to have a launch vehicle ready within five years.

"We do need to raise a certain amount of capital in order to do it, but since then [2002], I've spent the last ten years doing the detailed design on this vehicle," he said.

The trajectory and flight control systems, as well as fuselage and propellant feed system in the rocket are at an advanced stage of development and Marcom is looking to its business model for a local space industry.

"A lot of that preparation and planning has gone into: Where are we going to launch from? Who are our customers going to be? What are the legal and regulatory requirements that we're going to have to fit in within South Africa? Will the South African government cover the third party liabilities that space travel engenders?" said Comninos.

The company has received some financial support from the department of science and technology through the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) for development and testing.

"There is support from government; we are registered with the office on non-proliferation in space," Comninos said.

There is also oversight by the government to ensure that the company is not developing weapons of mass destruction.


"We've designed the Cheetah 1 launch vehicle as a cryogenic liquid rocket engine which makes it almost impossible to weaponise, but we are registered with the non-proliferation office and they are aware of our capabilities and we provide reports and feedback as to our progress," Comninos added.

The company has already developed a powerful rocket engine and is engaged in research to develop the combustion chamber.

"We're currently in development of a 10kN [kilonewton] rocket engine which we call the MAS 10K and that is a 10kN thrust rocket engine which is pressure fed and runs on liquid oxygen and ethanol.

"We've done 95% of the engine and we're currently looking at innovative ways to manufacture the combustion chamber," said Comninos.

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