AUSTIN, Texas – SpaceX has publicly supported legislation authored by state Sen. Eddie Lucio to strengthen the aerospace and aviation division within the Governor’s Office.
Alma Walzer, a representative of SpaceX, testified before the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development in support of Senate Bill 458.
“On behalf of SpaceX and its employees, who number over 3,500 across the United States including about 350 in Central and South Texas, I thank you for the opportunity to participate in today’s hearing and to speak in support of Senate Bill 458,” Walzer testified.
“We appreciate the committee’s focus on the aerospace industry in Texas and in taking up Senator Lucio’s legislation today, this committee is giving the Texas space industry an opportunity to highlight the significant economic benefits the aerospace industry brings to the State through our supply of purchases, launch customer activities and tourism.”
Lucio said SB 458 reforms the existing aerospace-related division in the Governor’s Office and “improves the manner by which the state addresses the planning, development and support of aerospace initiatives to ensure that Texas is on the forefront of the aerospace industry in the nation.”
Lucio said he has worked with Governor’s Office on crafting the bill. He said it provides “additional resources to the aerospace division” by allowing it to partner with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on higher education programs that support aerospace activities and with the Texas Workforce Commission on higher technology skills. He said SB 458 provides for both a short-term and long-term plan and improves the aerospace and aviation advisory committee by including a member from each active spaceport development corporation in the state.
In her testimony, Walzer explained the work SpaceX is doing. “Over the past 12 months SpaceX has partnered with over 250 Texas vendors, a majority of whom are considered small or disadvantaged businesses. As our activities expand from Central into South Texas we can predict a significant economic impact based on Florida’s experience where each satellite or unmanned launch has been estimated to have a $1 million benefit for the local economy,” Walzer said.
Walzer pointed out that SpaceX is an all-American space technology company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. She said the company’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft together offer “highly reliable” end-to-end solutions for space transportation. “With a diverse manifest of over 50 missions including launches to resupply the international space station and deliver commercial and government launches of satellites to orbit, SpaceX is the world’s fastest growing launch services provider,” Walzer said.
Since 2003, SpaceX has tested its rocket hardware at a state-of-the-art rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas. “We’ve invested over $70 million into infrastructure at this site and recently we expanded the facility footprint to over 4,000 acres,” Walzer said. All of SpaceX’s rockets and spacecraft are manufactured in California and then transported to McGregor for rigorous testing. “Every day our engineers and technicians conduct engine tests in Texas,” Walzer said. “We test every Merlin engine the powers the Falcon 9 and will power the Falcon Heavy, the world’s most powerful rocket, before launching.”
Walzer said that after “thousands of tests” in McGregor, SpaceX developed the Merlin, the first new American hydrocarbon rocket engine in decades and the “highly capable” Draco thrusters which maneuver the Dragon spacecraft on its flights to the international space station.
Walzer also spoke about its planned rocket launch facility at Boca Chica beach in South Texas. “Last fall, SpaceX broke ground on the world’s first commercial orbital launch site in Cameron County. SpaceX selected that location due in large part to our strong supplier base in Texas and the state’s southern and coastal geography, the state’s business friendly climate and the legislature’s great efforts last session.”
Dan Seal is executive director of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, which has over 270 member companies. Seal also testified in favor of Lucio’s SB 458. “We believe this is a great bill for Texas. It establishes a stronger network in Governor’s Office to work with companies in this important, targeted industry. And it has a zero dollar fiscal implications.”
Seal said Texas has been a leader in space and aviation for a long time. He pointed out that President Kennedy first spoke about entering the space race in a speech at Rice University and that the word “Houston” was in the first sentence ushered from the Moon. “Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed,” said Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on July 20, 1969.
Seal said SB 458 “builds on this legacy of space excellence.” He said the spaceports in Houston, Brownsville and Midland are working together to bring more space and aviation activity to the state of Texas. “This bill lays out a vision and calls for industry-specific strategies to promote the retention, development, and expansion of aerospace and aviation industry facilities in Texas. This bill leads us to a pathway for the future. It is important for Texas,” Seal added.
At the hearing, state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, a Tea Party member, appeared to be critical of the state spending taxpayer dollars on aerospace activities. He questioned why Lucio had said SB 458 would bring additional resources to the aerospace division while Seal had said the bill has a zero sum fiscal implication. “As I read the bill it talks about increased investments and increased funding for the spaceport trust fund, where does that money come from?” Hall asked. Seal responded: “All I can say is it has a zero dollar fiscal implication.”
Keith Graf, director of aerospace, aviation and defense in the Governor’s Office, pointed out that a rider in the House version of the budget adds another $15 million to the Spaceport Trust. The Legislature appropriated $15 million to the trust last year and much of this was used to lure the SpaceX rocket launch facility to South Texas.
Sen. Lucio defended the state’s use of tax dollars to help grow the aerospace industry.
“What is wrong with a little investment that will go a long way to creating jobs in this state?” Lucio asked. “This bill has statewide implications in terms of its impact. If it takes a small investment on our part to help create those jobs in Houston and Midland and South Texas, all over the state, so be it. You (Hall) and I and others will have a chance to come together and try to find the necessary funding to invest and make things happen. It is a challenge every session but we are up to the challenge, you and I.”
State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, is also a Tea Party member. He asked if the $15 million provided by the Legislature to the Spaceport Trust last session was a one-off. He was told it was. He also asked how much private investment was made to the trust. Graf said SpaceX put in $80 million.
“One of the challenges we have with spaceports is you put them in the middle of nowhere but the problem is there is no infrastructure in the middle of nowhere. So this is helping put infrastructure, electrical lines, water, fiber optics to help support the spaceport,” Graf said.
Editor’s Note: The main picture accompanying this story features SpaceX founder Elon Musk.