BROWNSVILLE, RGV – With SpaceX, UTRGV and the new medical school, the Rio Grande Valley’s traditional brain drain is going to end and students from across America are going to start moving to the region to study and build a career.

This is the view of Pedro R. Garza, regional director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

“I have encouraged the university presidents to build more dormitories here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Garza told the Guardian. “The history has been that students from South Texas go north, whether it is A&M or Texas Tech or SMU, TCU, you name it. I want people from El Paso and Lubbock and Dallas and Houston to come to El Valle, so they can learn about El Valle and all the opportunities that reside here. And SpaceX and STARGATE will help do that.”

STARGATE stands for South Texas Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission. It is a partnership between UT-Brownsville’s Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy and California-based SpaceX. It was created by Dr. Frederick “Rick” Jenet, associate professor in UTB’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Garza was at UT-Brownsville on Wednesday for a news conference to announce the start of STARGATE and to present a $1.2 million EDA grant to STARGATE. STARGATE has also received funding from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, the University of Texas System and Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation.

The funding will be used to fund a business incubator for radio frequency laboratories, classrooms, incubator offices, warehouse space and outdoor radio systems at the STARGATE Technology Park located at the SpaceX Commercial Launch Facility at Boca Chica Beach in Cameron County. “As was stated in the press conference, it is an historic day for South Texas, not just Brownsville and Cameron County but for South Texas,” Garza said.

Julieta Garcia, executive director of the UT Institute of the Americas, embraces Pedro R. Garza, regional regional director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, at an event at UTB.
Julieta Garcia, executive director of the UT Institute of the Americas, embraces Pedro R. Garza, regional regional director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration, at an event at UTB.

Jenet said that when not being used for launches, SpaceX facilities will be used by student and faculty researchers at STARGATE for training, scientific research and technology development. The total project cost is $1.7 million.

“STARGATE is a space exploration technology center with direct access to space. It is going to give our students and faculty here at the University of Texas at Brownsville enormous opportunities to be involved in every aspect of space exploration from the development of new technologies for space exploration to the development of satellites and the spacecraft themselves; testing and actually watching them in our own backyard and to the orbital operations afterwards,” Jenet told the Guardian.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela helped Garza present the $1.2 million check to UTB. Vela recalled listening to SpaceX founder Elon Musk talk to reporters in the Valley recently. He said Musk was asked what persuaded him to locate SpaceX in South Texas.

“He (Musk) said it was the support in the community we had here. What I know he is talking about as well is the tremendous support he had from these students,” Vela said. “I know in my heart that if it were not for the students of this program, the likelihood of SpaceX launching in South Texas would not be that great. So, this community will forever owe the students of this institution a great deal of gratitude.”

Keith Boehler, 19, is a sophomore physics major from Brownsville and a 2013 graduate of Rivera High School. He said STARGATE and SpaceX should be “motivators for more people to graduate with university degrees.” Boehler is currently learning a computer language to aid a UTB physics doctoral student with his research.

According to a UTB news release, funding from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund will enable public-private STARGATE researchers to “develop the next generation of radio signal receiving and transmitting systems based on phased-array technology.” The release said the technology “has the potential to be transformational in the commercial space and aviation sectors as well as in commercial communications markets.”

In his remarks at the news conference, Jenet said STARGATE concept began two years ago shortly after SpaceX held a public hearing in Brownsville to gather opinions about the project. Some UTB students attended the meeting and Jenet met with SpaceX personnel to learn about the project.

“There are a lot of synergies between what we were doing in the department and what we were doing in the Center for Gravitational Wave Astronomy (at UTB),” said Jenet. “They (SpaceX) needed the tools for spacecraft tracking and radio frequency tackling tools. That’s what we do. It became very clear these synergies were there.”

Asked by the Guardian what he thought of Garza’s comments about students from across America wanting to study in the Valley, Jenet said: “I completely agree and am so looking forward to that happening. It is going to be another important piece of this whole operation.”