BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The co-founder of Silicon Valley Space Center says but for politics, Brownsville, Texas, could have been chosen for launching rockets into space in the 1960s, rather than Florida.
Sean Casey visited Brownsville recently for the start of the Expanding Frontiers non-profit.
“In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there were two choices for a Spaceport. One was in Florida and one was down here in Brownsville. We know how history played itself out, from politics,” Casey told the Rio Grande Guardian.
“But if you look at Mr. (Elon) Musk’s decision to build his spaceport, he chose Brownsville. Rather than choose it from politics, it was chosen from economic reasons.”
Elon Musk is the founder of SpaceX, which is building a rocket launching facility at Boca Chica near Brownsville. Expanding Frontiers, which was devised by UT-Rio Grande Valley astrophysicist Fredrick ‘Rick’ Jenet, is part of the City of Brownsville’s plans to be part of the NewSpace sector. The nonprofit was launched inside the historic Pan Am building at Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport.
“You can see how the Florida spaceport has grown over the last 50 years,” Casey said. “How is that an opportunity not also part of what’s happening in Brownsville? If you can imagine, what will Brownsville look like over the next ten, 20, 50, 100 years. This is the timescale for the growth of the NewSpace industry.”
Casey said he has urged Jenet to think longterm as Brownsville strategizes was to enter the NewSpace sector.
“The 21st Century will be about the NewSpace economy, much like the 20th Century was about the growth of aviation. We are here in front of the Pan Am building of 1931. What did aviation look like in 1931, what did aviation look like at the end of 20th Century in the year 2000. You can imagine what does Brownsville look like today in 2019 versus Brownsville at the end of 2119,” Casey said.
“Being involved in NewSpace is extremely important today because of the opportunities that are available with NewSpace companies, not only for going to lower earth orbit, for small satellites, for habitats, for expansion of the international space station and going beyond lower earth orbit to the Moon and Mars and throughout the solar system.”
Casey was asked if many people in Silicon Valley have heard of Brownsville.
“Yes, because of SpaceX and their Boca Chica launch facility,” Casey responded. “But, it is one of those things. Not everybody is paying attention to the NewSpace sector and what is happening. Yes, what Richard Branson is doing, it gets press, what Elon Musk is doing. But, there are a whole host of other companies that are very exciting.”
By way of example, Casey referenced a company called Astrobotic, which is building a lander to deploy NASA payloads on the Moon.
“Astrobotic has been working that lunar mission for about the last ten years. Only today is it in the press. So, not everybody appreciates the true significance of the ribbon-cutting today and the economic opportunities that are involved in the NewSpace sector, pretty much over the rest of the century,” Casey said.
Asked to explain his involvement in the NewSpace sector, Casey said:
“I am involved with a company called ATLAS Space Operations, which is focused on communications in lower earth orbit and beyond. In the past I have served as a founder for the New York Space Alliance, Sidney Nakahodo, co-founder and CEO of New York Space Alliance. was speaking here today. I have also founded the Silicon Valley Space Center in the Bay Area to work with scientists and engineers and their engagement with the Silicon Valley venture capital community. All of this has pretty much played out over the last ten years and we are really looking forward to what the next ten years and the next 20 years holds.”
Casey said Jenet has a key role in developing the NewSpace sector in Brownsville. Jenet, a professor and researcher, founded the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy and STARGATE at UT-Rio Grande Valley.
“Rick has been extremely important in shaping the view of the community towards this opportunity. Rick established a very early working relationship with SpaceX when they came down to Boca Chica,” Casey said.
“I met Rick at the Space Com event in Houston in 2015 and he invited me to come down and talk about what is happening in Brownsville and the scope of the opportunity And I have always encouraged Rick to think longterm, to think big about how Boca Chica and Brownsville can grow and serve as a key member of the NewSpace sector and to embrace entrepreneurs and new companies that want to build launch vehicles, that want to fly satellites, that perhaps are even talking about manned spaceflight in lower earth orbit and elsewhere.”
Editor’s Note: This is 8th in an eight-part series on Brownsville’s plans to be part of the NewSpace economy.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Sean Casey of the Silicon Valley Space Center outside the historic Pan Am building at Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport.