4 mins read 25 Nov 2021

When students get involved with launch base design

Young people from several regional schools have come together to participate in space-based esports activities, designing and building rocket launch platforms. Jonathan Nalder walks us through how these important early stages and investments in students can bloom into the next generation of Australia's space-based workforce. 

Credit: J. Nalder.

Students in regional Australia often miss out on chances to imagine themselves having a career in the space industry, but a recent ‘innovation sports’ workshop in Roma brought together seven schools and included a challenge designed to change this equation.

October 2021 saw schools from the Western Downs meet at Roma State College to compete in a unique ‘sport’ - one that combined the fast-growing field of esports with the technique known as design thinking. Pioneered by Australian STEM provider STEMPunks.com, this Innovation Sports event and others like it give students 55 mins to plan, build, evaluate and showcase a solution that is then judged against criteria such as innovation, team resilience and viability.

Given the fact that both Gilmour Space and Black Sky Aerospace have conducted rocket launch activities in western Queensland, this event was the perfect opportunity to firstly, bring students up to speed with what is happening in their backyard, and secondly, to challenge them to imagine themselves being involved.

Across the 55 minutes of the round, students feverishly worked together across five stages that mirror the design thinking process. Initially, they discussed research around regional launch facilities and planned out their solution to the ‘Design a facility to safely launch small rockets in Western Queensland while also protecting the environment’ challenge. They then spent 30 minutes co-building this solution using Minecraft as the build tool, followed by a three-minute team meeting to evaluate progress. Finally, they had seven minutes to finish the design, then two minutes to present to the judges and other schools on how their solution matched the challenge.

Credit: J. Nalder.

The two most unique designs who’s schools went through to the next round took different approaches to the ‘protecting the local environment’ aspect. One team, who built an Aussie-themed green and gold rocket, built their facility near a large dam to ensure water was available to quell any potential bushfires a launch might spark - and built a high wall enclosing the facility as well. The second team chose to create a large below-ground launch pad to contain launch gases and flames, as well as a reinforced launch tower that could host tourists so the facility doubled as a way to support the local economy as well.

All in all, it was a very successful event that showed there is great potential for regional students to contribute their innovative thinking to space industry projects. Schools around Australia can also participate in future challenges in 2022 by visiting isports.stempunks.com to learn more.

Credit: J. Nalder.


Through over 20 years in Education, Jonathan (MEd, BA/ BEd) has seen how life-long learning, digital tools (STEAM, AR/VR, mobile) & ‘spacethinking’ transform lives. Now, as founder of the First Kids on Mars, Space Futures Coach for STEM Punks, an Advance Queensland Digital Champion, SpaceNation activity designer, HundrEd Advisor (Finland) & CoSpaces AR/VR Ambassador, he actively helps leaders & learners shift thinking to embrace the coming fully digital, and ‘off-Earth’ era as their most human selves via tools developed for STEM Punks and the Future Ready Framework (FutureWe.org/framework). 

Recently Jonathan’s work was recognised as part of STEM Punks receiving the global Big Innovation Award 2021. He also presented at the Space Habitat Event in late 2020 with HI-SEAS Commander Dr Michaela Musilova, spoke at the world’s largest Education conference ISTE online about a Dark Skies project, and was recognised by CleverBooks as a Top 50 innovator with Augmented Reality.