Read time: 3 minutes

UKZN engineer, PhD candidate among African space industry's Top 10 Under 30

Kai Broughton
Kai Broughton

Kai Broughton, a PhD candidate and propulsion engineer in the Aerospace Systems Research Group (ASReG), has been named among the African space industry’s Top 10 Under 30 by the Space in Africa news agency.

“It’s an honour to be chosen as one of this year’s class of young people contributing to the industry, and it’s an important opportunity to draw attention to the work and mission of ASReG,” said Broughton.

The 27-year-old engineer responded to Space in Africa’s call for applications, and was selected for the honour alongside two others from South Africa, two from Angola, one from Ghana, two from Morocco, one from Ethiopia and one from Nigeria.

Africa’s space ecosystem is experiencing growth in expertise, investment from governments and the private sector, and contributions of innovators, engineers, researchers and writers. Space in Africa began profiling 10 of these individuals in 2019, employing a thorough selection process to arrive at the awardees. The recognition of the awardees is intended to form part of proceedings at the 2020 NewSpace Africa Conference in Ethiopia in November.

“These young people continue to display outstanding courage and contributions to the industry, reminding us at all times that Africa is ready to take a place in the global space market,” read a statement from the organisation.

As a propulsion engineer at ASReG, Broughton is working on liquid rocket propulsion systems and static test facilities, laying the foundation for an indigenous satellite launch capability. He is also working on ignition systems for a number of engines under development by ASReG, and working part-time as the Lead Engineer for the Phoenix-1B hybrid sounding rocket project, developing and upgrading two sounding rockets to be launched by the end of 2020. These launches will prove technology and operations required for a commercial workhorse sounding rocket, which will be used to commission a new sounding rocket launch facility in South Africa.

His work at ASReG contributes to his PhD research, which is in the area of liquid rocket engine design.

Broughton completed his undergraduate and master’s studies in Mechanical Engineering at UKZN, attaining his degrees summa cum laude and cum laude respectively and receiving first prize for his final year project, the best fourth-year student award, and the prestigious Engineering Council of South Africa Merit Medal. His master’s project involved the development of the Phoenix-1B Mk II hybrid sounding rocket, focusing on the rocket motor design and testing and culminating in a launch test in February 2019.

Having always been interested in aerospace, Broughton’s exposure to the field was accentuated during his master’s studies, and as he watched worldwide trends in space exploration and technology, he became passionate about seeing South Africa build its own capacity for launching aerospace vehicles and technology, saying it is possible if the country can develop critical infrastructure and expertise, and capitalise on the knowledge of experienced engineers and researchers who were part of South Africa’s early launch vehicle programmes.

Broughton’s work helps meet the aims of ASReG, which include the development of aerospace technologies related to rockets and space vehicles, and the development of human skills in aerospace engineering.

“There is a huge market gap in the African context to launch satellites into space, not just to make them; we are trying to fill this gap, which will create jobs, expertise and investment,” said Broughton.

Dr Jean Pitot, leader of ASReG, remarked that the ASReG team is proud of Broughton’s contributions to the group’s objective of developing technologies and human capital to enable South African space access.

“Over and above his dedication, determination and spirit of innovation, this prestigious recognition is testament to his remarkable abilities as a young engineer. His accomplishments, along with those achieved by the rest of ASReG’s exceptional team, demonstrate beyond a doubt that South Africa has the depth of engineering talent required to establish an indigenous launch capability that is commercially competitive and able to service Africa’s space launch needs.”

Academic leader of Mechanical Engineering Professor Mike Brooks paid tribute to Broughton’s achievement, calling him a highly talented engineer and valued team member.

“ASReG is fortunate to have top-flight engineers working on incredibly complex aerospace propulsion systems, and this award rightfully recognises the technological strides that Kai, and the group, have made as we pursue a commercial rocket launch capability for South Africa.”


Kai Broughton
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: +27 81 547 6056

Professor Mike Brooks
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 082 200 9666

Dr Jean Pitot
E-mail: [email protected]
Phone: 072 282 9457

Editorial contacts
Nkosinathi Bhekani Dlamini [email protected]