MIP Holdings has helped a local amateur rocketeer launch a challenge on the country's space record. With financial and logistical assistance from MIP, Johann Karsten tried to become the first person in South Africa to launch a rocket 10km into space.
The attempt late last year, termed UJ1, has yet to be verified as the rocket has not been recovered after a successful launch. However, there are ongoing efforts to track down the rocket, with a cash record of R500.00 on offer.
Karsten, a University of Johannesburg Mechanical Engineering graduate, had been drawn into amateur rocketry through the South African Rocketry Association's (SARA) 10km amateur rocket challenge, issued in January last year.
"Amateur rocketry is a growing hobby in South Africa," says Karsten. "Building a rocket to go one or two kilometres high is a challenge, but building a rocket that can reach 10km in altitude is a completely different ball game. For instance, the highest verified amateur rocket launched in South Africa reached less than 5km."
MIP sponsored Karsten's construction of a rocket that could break the South African amateur record. It was a complex design using a hybrid fuel technology, which is being researched worldwide as it is relatively safe.
This involves using a liquid oxygen source and a solid fuel. Karsten used nitrous oxide as an oxidant and polypropylene (common plastic) as the fuel. Separately they are non-reactive and therefore safe. They are brought together at high temperature and pressure which creates a powerful reaction, providing thrust through a carbon nozzle. The rocket was designed to be launched and safely recovered through a two-parachute system. The entire rocket would be recovered and could be reloaded and relaunched.
"We successfully launched the rocket from a launch site south-east of Witbank," reports Karsten. "It accelerated off the launch pad with an incredible roar and thrust into the sky. It flew completely out of sight and we continually heard it thrust for few seconds thereafter. Our tracking system was a radio transmitter and receiver that required a 6km line of sight. This unfortunately did not pick up the signal from the ground and we needed an aerial search."
MIP funded and organised the aerial search and rescue operation, involving gyrocopters and one helicopter. They spent hours in the air searching for the rocket and trying to pick up a signal from the radio tracking device, but this was not successful.
"We could not have made the record attempt without funding from MIP and the University of Johannesburg," adds Karsten. "While the rocket has not yet been located, I am still confident that someone will find her and return her to us. We will continue writing to local newspapers and pilots. We have offered a R500.00 reward for the recovery of the rocket and hope that in the months to come she will turn up somewhere. The altitude-recording electronics on-board store flight data on flash disk-type memory. This means that it does not require power to retain the data. When the rocket is retrieved, a new battery will be connected and the maximum altitude reached can be verified."
Richard Firth, chairman and CEO of MIP, comments: "At MIP we believe passionately in the power of innovation and entrepreneurship. For that reason, we had no hesitation in supporting Johann. We will continue to assist in finding the rocket, so that we can be certain of the outcome of the record attempt."