BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Helen Ramirez, interim city manager of Brownsville, is encouraging more companies to apply for the type of funding Cosmic Shielding Corporation received to research in and relocate to Brownsville. 

In collaboration with the City of Brownsville, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation (GBIC) announced a $150,000 Performance Grant for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The award will fund a 16-month comprehensive research project for material development, article production, and testing to support the commercialization efforts of Cosmic Shielding Corporation’s relocation to Brownsville.

Helen Ramirez

A UTRGV research team will lead the newly funded project to assist Dr. Lembit Sihver, founder and chief technology officer of Cosmic Shielding, in the formulation, development, testing, and fabrication of new robust materials with specific shielding properties for use in satellites, space applications and other engineering applications with similar operating conditions.

Funding comes from Launch BTX, a program Ramirez developed when she led GBIC. 

“This was my brain child, my baby,” Ramirez said of Launch BTX. “I created the program program after hearing from emerging technology companies about what they needed to relocate here.”

Asked what the mission of Launch BTX is, Ramirez said: 

“The mission of Launch BTX is to foster and support public educational institutions in collaboration with Brownsville start-ups and businesses in the Aerospace, NewSpace, Urban Mobility and technological sectors where new or evolving products are being tested, researched, and developed.”

Ramirez said Launch BTX provides grants to eligible public educational institutions (universities, community colleges, technical colleges, state colleges, and high schools providing career and technical education) to defray the costs of providing office and laboratory space, training by professors, student research, internships/apprenticeships, testing equipment, and associated services meant to develop and launch new or evolving products. 

“For example, Cosmic Shielding was at MIT. I thought, how do I get them to work here? Why don’t I create a program where we can help companies such as Cosmic Shielding, or SpaceX, or even Paragon to work with our universities.”

Ramirez pointed out that the drone academy Brownsville ISD has set up Paragon VTOL Aerospace came about thanks to Launch BTX funding. 

“They were the first ones that were funded,” Ramirez said. “Launch VTX has been funded for another year so I encourage other companies to give us a call.”

Ramirez said she is not aware of any other economic development corporation that funds a program similar to Launch BTX. At the official announcement of Cosmic Shielding coming to Brownsville there was mention of a similar program in Oklahoma. But that is a statewide program.

Ramirez said the ultimate goal is to have Cosmic Shielding not only do research work but also manufacture in Brownsville. In a video interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, Cosmic Shielding’s Sihver said he was amenable to that. 

“When we talk about companies taking advantage of the Launch BTX program, we are not talking exclusively about existing companies that want to start a new technology line,” Ramirez explained. “It could be existing company that wants to expand, and then start manufacturing here.”

Ramirez added that the discussions between Cosmic Shielding and UTRGV took over a year. “It was hard but UTRGV is looking to be innovative. I’m so glad with how things turned out. It’s always hard the first time but once you get the first one done it becomes a lot easier.”

The announcement about the $150,000 Performance Grant for UTRGV was held at the university’s Music, Science & Learning Center in Brownsville.

Dr. Constantine Tarawneh, senior associate dean for research and graduate programs at UTRGV, will serve as principal investigator of the Cosmic Shielding research project.

In a video interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, Tarawneh said the research will involve determining the mechanical and thermal properties of fabricated prototypes and performing numerical simulations to assess the performance of these materials in service conditions.

Joining Tarawneh on the project are Dr. Robert Jones, professor and interim chair for information and engineering Systems, Dr. Jesús González, assistant professor of practice in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Editor’s Note: Click here to watch three video interviews about the City of Brownsville/GBIC/UTRGV/Cosmic Shielding research collaboration.

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