BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Members of Congress visited the STARGATE at UT-Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville on Friday, interested in the program and the group’s collaboration with SpaceX.

Congressman Filemon Vela said many people in his district – he represents Brownsville – were dubious that SpaceX would follow through on its plans to send rockets up to space from a launch pad on Boca Chica beach.

Dr. Rick Jenet, founder and director of STARGATE, responded that he was 100 percent sure SpaceX would be active in South Texas.

He later told the Rio Grande Guardian: “I am not a spokesperson for SpaceX but we can see the signs in the public statements that SpaceX are making. It is very clear that SpaceX has every intention of moving forward with the Boca Chica launch facility and in a recent conference in Silicon Valley, there was a presentation by SpaceX and you could see on the map a SpaceX facility, the Boca Chica space launch facility.”

STARGATE stands for Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Gigahertz Astrophysical Transient Emission and is a radio-frequency (RF) technology facility currently under development in south Texas.

Within minutes of the discussion between Jenet and the members of Congress, James Gleeson, as senior communications manager at SpaceX sent the Rio Grande Guardian a quote about its commitment to South Texas. The timing was purely coincidental.

“SpaceX is committed to building the world’s first commercial launch complex in South Texas. We have invested millions into the project, hired new full-time employees and contractors, conducted extensive engineering and geotechnical surveys, and performed soil surcharging and drilling in preparation for the build,” Gleeson said.

“Last year, shipped from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and mounted on concrete foundations, SpaceX installed two ground station antennas at our South Texas launch site to track Crew Dragon missions to the International Space Station and beyond beginning in 2018, as well as for tracking flights from South Texas.”

SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. Its mission is to revolutionize space technology with the ultimate goal of enabling humans to live on other planets.

SpaceX has gained worldwide attention for a series of milestones. It is the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it first accomplished in December 2010. The company also made history in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft delivered cargo to and from the International Space Station — a challenging feat previously accomplished only by governments. Since then Dragon has delivered cargo to and from the space station multiple times, providing regular cargo resupply missions for NASA.

In 2017, SpaceX successfully achieved the first re-flight of an orbital class rocket – a milestone on the road to full and rapid rocket reusability. Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are the only orbital class rockets flying today that are capable of reuse. Currently Dragon carries cargo to space, but it was designed from the outset to carry humans. Under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX is now developing the refinements that will enable Dragon to fly crew as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Dragon’s first test flight with crew is expected to take place as early as 2018.

In 2017, SpaceX represented over 60 percent of all U.S. launches. Five of SpaceX’s 18 missions in 2017 utilized flight-proven Falcon 9 rockets. To date, SpaceX has successfully completed 51 launches – 48 with Falcon 9, one with Falcon Heavy and two with Falcon 1. Of those missions, SpaceX has successfully landed 23 first stage boosters – 12 at sea and 11 on land at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) and Landing Zone 2 (LZ-2). SpaceX has secured over 100 missions to its manifest, representing over $12 billion in contracts.

On February 6, 2018, Falcon Heavy successfully lifted off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, with the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lbs.)—a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel. Falcon Heavy’s first stage is composed of three Falcon 9 nine-engine cores whose 27 Merlin engines together generate more than 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, equal to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft. Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973 from LC-39A, delivered more payload to orbit.

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on SpaceX and STARGATE. Part Two will be posted later today.