BROWNSVILLE, RGV – SpaceX is urging the state legislature in Texas to fund the aerospace industry in the same way Florida does.
At a recent joint legislative committee hearing held at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville, Caryn Schenewerk, senior counsel and director of governmental affairs for SpaceX, pointed out that zero dollars were appropriated to the Texas Spaceport Trust Fund during last year’s legislative session. In contrast, Schenewerk said, Florida commits $20 million a year to its spaceport infrastructure fund.
“One of the things I want to highlight for you is that unfortunately, the spaceport trust fund was not funded in the 84th Legislature and we will certainly be advocating for it to be considered by the 85th and for it to be part of the budget in the 85th Legislature,” Schenewerk testified.
“By contrast, Florida consistently funds its space infrastructure fund to a tune of $20 million a year. Those infrastructure matching grants go to exactly the kind of activities that we are undertaking at Boca Chica. They are public-private partnerships for investing specifically in what is so costly an undertaking, the infrastructure.”
SpaceX is developing what would be the world’s first commercial orbit launch site at Boca Chica beach near Brownsville.
Schenewerk said SpaceX cannot launch a single rocket from Boca Chica until it has built out 100 percent of the launch site. “There is a significant capital expenditure ahead of any activity being undertaken. It must be fully constructed and fully licensed before that first launch can occur. So, you can understand that it is a little bit different from other activities where you ramp up and phase your activities.”
However, in her testimony Schenewerk did acknowledge that the state legislature “has made great strides to attract commercial space activities.” She said commercial space activities are popping up across the state with notable accomplishments. “We appreciate the fact that the 83rd Legislature updated the laws in Texas and funded for the first time a spaceport trust fund. It was an important aspect in helping us fund the project here in Boca Chica. Thanks to local leadership and widespread support throughout the legislature, the 84th Legislature passed Senate Bill 458.”
By funding the aerospace industry, Schenewerk said, the State of Texas will be helping the export of launch services, supporting the manufacturing sector and promoting launch activities in Texas.
“SpaceX appreciates the committee’s efforts in ensuring SpaceX attracts and supports the aerospace industry, furthers manufacturing, furthers exports. This is something I hope you will consider as you move into the 85th Legislature,” Schenewerk said, as she thanked the two committee chairmen who hosted the joint House hearing – state Reps. René Oliveira and Rafael Anchia.
“We appreciate Texas’ commitment to this industry and the recognition that it is a growing opportunity for this state. Jobs, high tech, manufacturing, STEM education – we bring it all and we are very excited to make that contribution,” Schenewerk said.
The legislative hearing was hosted jointly by the House Committee on Business & Industry, chaired by Oliveira, and the House Committee on International Trade & Intergovernmental Affairs, chaired by Anchia.
After the hearing, Gilberto Salinas, vice president of Brownsville Economic Development Corporation, said he backed SpaceX’s efforts to secure funding for the Texas Spaceport Trust Fund. BEDC played a major role in landing SpaceX to Brownsville.
“Through the Governor’s committee, we’re currently brainstorming and discussing ideas on how to better recruit industry to Texas in the aerospace and aviation sectors. One point of conversation is the Spaceport Trust Fund and how it should be an important toll in the tool boxes of space economic development authorities,” Salinas said.
In her testimony at the legislative hearing, Schenewerk spoke about SpaceX’s work in Texas and its plans for a launch site at Boca Chica. She predicted the Boca Chica site will be fully functional by 2018.
Schenewerk said SpaceX has been in Texas since 2003. She said the company has nearly 5,000 employees nationwide and 500 employees in Central and South Texas. “Rockets and spacecraft are manufactured in California but they undergo propulsion and structural testing in our state of the art rocket development facility in MacGregor, Texas.” She said $70 million has been invested at the MacGregor facility, which covers 4,000 acres. She encouraged legislators to visit the site to see the engine testing and research and development that is done there.
“We are an exporter of launch services internationally. Over the past 12 months SpaceX has partnered with over 250 Texas vendors, the majority of which are small. We predict significant, positive economic benefits for Texas. We are world’s fastest growing launch services provider. The French and the Russians had nearly 100 percent of the market until SpaceX entered the international commercial launch market.”
In her testimony about SpaceX’s activities in South Texas, Schenewerk said Boca Chica would be home to the world’s first commercial orbit launch site. “SpaceX selected Boca Chica beach due in large part to the strong supplier base we have in Texas, the state’s southern coastal geography, its business friendly climate and the local, county and state partnerships we were able to forge as we made that decision. The launch site is necessary to serve our growing customer demand. It is a testament to Texas’ business friendly atmosphere and SpaceX’s success in winning away commercial launches from our competitors,” Schenewerk said.
“We estimate we will invest tens of millions of dollars in constructing and operating the launch facility. For a project of this scale there are significant engineering and design and environmental work that must be completed prior to heavy construction. A lot of that work may not have been immediately visible to those visiting Boca Chica in the past year. Today, we have more than 310,000 cubic yards of soil that are being piled and compressed at the site. That soil will help us form a solid foundation for our future launch pad, a launch pad that will be able to launch both the Falcon Heavy and the Falcon 9 vehicles.”
Schenewerk said SpaceX will soon begin work on a water tower, solar farm, support buildings and other necessary infrastructure at Boca Chica.
“SpaceX deeply appreciates the unprecedented coordinated effort involving local, regional, state and federal officials that made it possible for us to select this site. We are particularly excited as we sit here at UTRGV about the STARGATE partnership with the University of Texas for space research and commercialization, as well as the other educational activities, from elementary thru post-graduate work that the launch site will enable,” Schenewerk added.