A multi-million-rand agreement between the University of Cape Town Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment and top European space technology company Airbus Defence and Space is set to propel SA into the high-tech world of international space technology.
Fifteen years ago, a young engineering student had a brainwave. Today his idea has developed into a sophisticated software tool that has attracted the attention of the top technology companies around the world, resulting in a massive deal with Airbus.
"Many years ago I had a moment of insight and vision into the future. I realised this sort of technology would come into use. It was rudimentary back then; but I decided to pursue it, and it paid off massively," says Arnaud Malan, Associate Professor in Mechanical Engineering in UCT's Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE).
Professor Malan and two PhD students will now be working with Airbus Defence and Space, formerly known as Astrium, in a new R2.5 million research agreement set to put South Africa on the strategic international space technology map.
The agreement has profound implications for South Africa - in both the short and the long term - impacting on the economy, business and science; with Airbus investing in the development of a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software tool called Elemental, for ground-breaking use in the modelling and design of space applications - such as rockets and satellites.
"This is a huge, strategic moment for South Africa," explains Professor Malan. "Space industry is the epitome of hi-tech." The software can be used to model, in 3D, all kinds of technological applications, for future space applications and commercial use. The software will be licensed and will generate significant income from annual licensing fees, which is part of its economic benefit.
Professor Francis Petersen, Dean of EBE, says that this new strategic project between Airbus and the Department of Mechanical Engineering is a great honour for the university, and will strengthen its efforts in this area. "We are delighted that Airbus, Europe's number-one space technology company, has identified the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment as a strong research partner in their overall strategy," he says.
Professor Malan says Elemental is a giant leap for technology. It uses mathematical models and equations in the field of CFD - enabling scientists to study the dynamics of fluid flow through a computer model, offering accurate predictions and unprecedented insights. It is a sophisticated analysis technique offering multiple predictions. "It can answer 'what if' questions very quickly. You give it variables, it gives you outcomes."
The commercial CFD software market, currently generating over R5.6 billion annually worldwide, is one of the fastest-growing fields in engineering today. "Elemental is all South African," says Professor Malan. It is different from similar CFD code, as it was designed from the outset to allow for rapid development of the complex multi-physics devices that today pose lucrative opportunities for industry. "The best commercial software in the world has been found to be limited. That is why they're looking to us," explains Professor Malan regarding the Airbus-UCT initiative.
The technology has already resulted in two UCT spin-out companies - Numerus Technologies (Pty) Ltd and Elemental IP Holdings (Pty) Ltd - aiming to allow South Africa to enter into lucrative and modern technological markets, ranging from software licensing and the development of internationally competitive products and devices, to the cost-effective provision of electricity.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Please view the republishing articles page for more information.