4 mins read 19 Apr 2023

Building Australia's Largest Rocket Testing Facility

The Australian Government has awarded the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Cooperation $4.5 million to work with South Australian launch company, Southern Launch, to develop one of the largest rocket testing facilities in the world.

Members of the Koonibba community on-site at the Koonibba Test Range during the TED 3 campaign in 2022. Credit: Supplied.

South Australian launch company, Southern Launch, and the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Cooperation have announced they are working on the building of a permanent space facility in South Australia after the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Cooperation received $4.5 million of Federal Government funding for the development.

Southern Launch and the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Cooperation have been working for a number of years towards developing and operating this important piece of Australian space industry infrastructure, allowing rocket technologies, instruments and scientific observations to be conducted on home soil, with the opportunity to retrieve assets. The range itself is Australia’s first licensed space launch facility and has a long list of local and international customers ready to use the range to launch and accept re-entries of ground-breaking space technology.

“The partnership we have had with Southern Launch over the past few years has been tremendous for our community through investment and employment opportunities,” said Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation Chief Executive, Corey McLennan. “We are looking forward to what this next chapter will bring and excited to inspire our community with the world of opportunities available to them when space is right on our doorstep.”

The facility will be built at the Koonibba Test Range, located 40 kilometres northwest of Ceduna in South Australia, which is designed to test rockets on sub-orbital trajectories, allowing recovery and assessment of the vehicle and the payload. The Kooniba Test Range is one of the largest rocket testing facilities in the world which extends out for 145 kilometres and covers an area of 10,000 square kilometres of mostly uninhabited national parklands, providing a vast location for testing, and away from major populations. 

The test range is built upon (with the approval of) the traditional owners of the land - the Koonibba Aboriginal community, made up of the Indigenous people of Wirangu, Kokatha and Mirning descent who continue to live and practice culture on this land, maintaining traditions of utmost significance. 

“This funding will enable us to work with the Koonibba community to develop world-class space facilities that secure a high-tech future for the community,” said Southern Launch CEO, Lloyd Damp. “ The Koonibba Test Range brings a global industry to South Australia’s doorstep and we’re excited about the opportunities this will bring to the community through employment, investment and inspiration.”

The Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation is also planning to use a portion of the funds to develop an observatory on Koonibba lands, which is so far, in the very early stages of planning. It’s expected that the observatory will have a strong connection to traditional Indigenous sciences, as well as be a tourist destination for South Australia. 

“This observatory will combine our rich stargazing history as First Nations people with the ground-breaking space exploration happening from our lands,” said McLennan. “ We hope the observatory will be a drawcard for every launch from the facility and must-see destination as people travel across Australia.”

Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Corey McLennan with Southern Launch CEO Lloyd Damp. Credit: Supplied.

Once fully operational, the test range is also expected to generate direct employment for 30 community members and generate significant revenue for the local community through tourism, launch support and construction work. 

“The positive collaboration we have had with the Koonibba community in establishing the Koonibba Test Range is a testament to what can be achieved when local stakeholders, commercial enterprises and government work together,” said Damp. 

“We are excited to follow this blueprint as we look to establish permanent facilities at our Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex and bring even more investment to the Eyre Peninsula.”

Plans for the permanent facilities are currently with the local council for approval. Southern Launch and the Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation hope that works can begin in the second half of 2023. A number of missions are contracted to launch from the Koonibba Test Range later this year and in 2024.