It’s not unfair to say that the Australian public’s perception of the Australian space industry is: we have one? Talk to those with a bit more than a casual knowledge of space and there’s a blank look when it comes to an answer. It’s not helped by a lack of steak to go with the barely audible sizzle the Australian government would have us think is louder than it is.
Under the umbrella of the Federal Government, the Australian Space Agency is the front door to the country’s space industry, however there are other interested parties and ones that have contacts with agencies and countries with established bases and plenty of history.
One of those is the Moody Space Centre, or MSC, run by former singer and long time space enthusiast, John Moody. Home-ported in Queensland, John envisages a base in the north eastern corner of the state, and to that end has established solid relationships with agencies outside of the country, agencies that have well proven technology.
Here we need to define what MSC have in mind, and it’s simple. An Australian base for manned space travel. The target is the I.S.S., the International Space Station. With the Australian Space Agency’s focus on smaller items such as cubesats, John looked at what else could be offered and discussions with officials at NASA over the past two years have yielded an agreement effectively ready to be signed. The holdup? John sighs as the word “covid” passes his lips. He says it’s the biggest road block for the progress of commencing building a launch complex.
The other partner waiting in the wings is Raytheon. The company is a weapons specialist, with expertise above and below sea level, including the Hobart-class DDGs. Again, there is an agreement in principle with Raytheon ready to use a site to launch satellites on behalf of the Australian government and other interested parties such as Interorbital, already an investor in MSC.
The site would be capable, says John, of launching crewed capsules not unlike the SpaceX Crew Dragon, with up to three astronauts aboard. He’s visited Russian sites and discussed in detail what the Russian space agency has in mind. This includes the forthcoming replacement for the venerable Soyuz launch system, named “Orel” or “Oryel” and operated by Roscosmos. They too have in-principle agreements ready for the Moody Space Centre as they build their own new HQ in Moscow.
The idea of the Russians, or the Soviets as they known, utilising an Australian site isn’t a new one, says John. This idea goes back to 1980 and under the then Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, which for various reasons at the time, wasn’t carried forward.
A benefit for the American space industry, says John, is, in a way, a complement to what SpaceX is offering, the ability to utilise the MSC site for their own manned launches. Until the success of the manned SpaceX missions, it was costing America in the order of forty two million dollars per astronaut to head skywards on a Soyuz rocket. Why? Because there literally was no other option and NASA was forced to pay what the Russians were asking. However, in parallel, when the timing is right then Roscosmos will also operate from the MSC site, with a form of lease agreement allowing Australian, American, etc astronauts to fly at a reduced cost. This falls into place as the Russians look to complete their withdrawal from a site in French Guyana.
Has MSC approached SpaceX? The simple answer is yes, but to no avail, says John, with a response manner he says is best classified as secretive.
He’s also discussed the site and operations with both the Australian federal government and Queensland governments. There’s a hint of frustration in his reply as he says that the federal government has offered nothing, yet the Queensland government is far more keen to assist. And yes, it’s all pending covid…
And that really is the next step for the Moody Space Centre. Once travel restrictions ease, then American and Russians involvement can ramp up, face to face discussions with interested stakeholders such as Raytheon can progress, and preparation for leveling the site in Queensland can commence. The backing is there, the dream is alive, and now it’s just a matter of time before an Australian doorway could open to the heavens.