BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Brownsville Economic Development Corporation has been asked to help develop a strategy to make Texas the leader in the commercial space sector.

State Rep. Dennis Paul
State Rep. Dennis Paul

The invitation came from state Rep. Dennis Paul, chair of the Texas Legislative Space Caucus. The caucus held a meeting at the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition, which took place at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

Other EDCs present at the roundtable discussion included the Houston Bay Area and Midland. Along with Brownsville they are heavily involved in the commercial space sector. BEDC played a key role in bringing SpaceX to the Rio Grande Valley.

“We’re being asked to contribute our thoughts in order to develop a strategy to make Texas the leader in the commercial space sector,” BEDC Executive Vice President Gilberto Salinas told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“Since 2012, the global space economy has grown by 70 percent and the majority of that growth is in the commercial space industry.”

Gilberto Salinas

The planned SpaceX commercial spacecraft launch facility at Boca Chica expects to launch about 12 commercial spacecraft a year once it is up and running. The spaceport is expected to generate 300 jobs and a roughly $100 million capital investment in the Valley region.

Salinas said that thanks to SpaceX and other economic development projects, Brownsville is transforming its own identity. He said there is now a concerted effort to begin catalyzing economic development in the city’s burgeoning space sector; and it begins by participating in high-level talks with agencies on a statewide basis.

“Brownsville is front and center in those discussions as the SpaceX vertical rocket launch site will become an economic pillar in Texas’ future space growth,” Salinas said.

Created by Rep. Paul, a Republican from Houston, the Texas House Aerospace Legislative Caucus was formed to promote initiatives that will secure Texas’ ranking as a world leader—advancing space exploration, science and security, according to Paul on the caucus’ website.

The Space Caucus is supported by Texas’ Senate Bill 458, which is designed to support the growth of the space sector in the Lone Star State.

“The Aerospace Legislative Caucus is making an effort to tell other states and other businesses around the country that we want Texas to be the space state,” said Paul, who is an engineer by trade. “If you want to operate a space business, come here and let it grow.”

More than 1,600 space enthusiasts participated at the SpaceCom expo at Houston’s George Brown Convention Center. BEDC staff members attended the conference, which was designed to help with economic development of commercial space, the creation of business models for that development and the innovation of space technologies.

In addition to NASA, other major companies in attendance include Virgin Galactic, Airbus, Orbital/ATK, Lockheed Martin and SpaceX.

At the event, the BEDC was recognized by the International Economic Development Council with a Gold Award for its recruitment, collaboration and marketing efforts associated with the SpaceX-STARGATE Projects.

The awards for Excellence in Economic Development included: a gold award in the category of Regionalism & Project Collaboration for Project SpaceX-STARGATE; a silver award in the category of Special Purpose Print Brochure, which was for the Brownsville Economic Journal, a business news magazine of the BEDC; and a bronze award in the Video & Multimedia Promotion category for the Launch Brownsville campaign, designed for introducing the commercial space industry to Brownsville.

“The recognition is a testament to what we’re experiencing, which is education, industry and innovation all converging in this region,” said Jason Hilts, BEDC President & CEO in a statement. “Brownsville is transforming its own destiny.”

JoAnn Crary
JoAnn Crary

JoAnn Crary is chair of the International Economic Development Council. She said: “From localized community projects, to large scale endeavors, economic development efforts have played a vital role in the global economy. As we address new and longstanding challenges, these efforts continue to take on even greater importance. The award serves as a salute to pacesetting organizations like the Brownsville Economic Development Council for leading the charge.”

Conceived by Dr. Fredrick Jenet, STARGATE stands for Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission. It was conceived by Dr. Fredrick Jenet at UT-Brownsville and is now a public-private partnership between the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) at UT-Rio Grande Valley and SpaceX.

As a research center adjacent to SpaceX’s future command and control center, STARGATE will, according to its website, be developing new radio frequency based technologies for a wide range of academic and commercial applications. “STARGATE will enable UTRGV students to be directly involved in all aspects of a space mission, including the design of the spacecraft, testing, launch, and orbital operations. In addition, STARGATE will include a focused business incubator for electronics and RF technology companies.”

Jenet believes this combination, in proximity to a commercial space port, will create unique opportunities for collaboration and research, introduce the South Texas region into the aerospace industry, and significantly boosts UTRGV’s technical and educational resources.

Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying this story was taken at the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition by reporter Carl Lindemann.