BROWNSVILLE, RGV – Game changer, transformational, monumental, landmark, were some of the words used to describe Monday’s announcement that Space Exploration Technologies is to build a commercial rocket launching facility on Boca Chica beach near Brownsville.

SpaceX is expected to create 300 direct jobs and pump $85 million in capital investment into the local economy, according to Gov. Rick Perry’s office. Perry’s office and Brownsville city and economic development leaders have been working with SpaceX for the past three years to ensure the project takes off.

The facility, which will launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy orbital vertical launch vehicles, will complement SpaceX’s existing launch sites at Vandenberg, California, and Cape Canaveral, Florida. It could see up to 12 rockets a year launched into space both for private industry and possibly NASA.

“It is kind of hard to quantify what the impact is going to be but if we are looking at $85 million worth of infrastructure investment by the company, the hundreds of jobs that will be created, all the spinoff activity. The economic and educational landscape of South Texas will be changed forever,” said Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos.

“It is going to add to what we have been promoting all along. This is the area to be in. This is the front door to the United States, not the back door. It is just amazing what this community can do when it works together for one common cause. Everyone is happy about it, the community should be happy because we had a lot of support throughout.”

Eduardo Campirano, chairman of the Rio South Texas Economic Council, issued this statement:

“The decision by SpaceX executives to locate its global launch facility in Brownsville is one more indication of the economic and technological emergence of the Rio Grande Valley. We have a great higher educational complex to provide the scientists and engineers to help make SpaceX a success and as the world turns its eyes to Brownsville to watch the launches, they will also begin to see the opportunities for building businesses and careers in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.”

SpaceX founder Elon Musk
SpaceX founder Elon Musk

Gov. Rick Perry made the announcement that SpaceX was, finally, coming to South Texas, via news release. A little later, local elected officials and educators held a news conference at the offices of Brownsville Economic Development Council.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk founded the company in 2002. He said: “SpaceX is excited to expand our work in Texas with the world’s first commercial launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions. We appreciate the support of Gov. Perry and numerous other federal, state and local officials who have partnered with us to make this vision a reality. In addition to creating hundreds of high tech jobs for the Texas workforce, this site will inspire students, expand the supplier base and attract tourists to the south Texas area.”

Brownsville EDC Chairman Keith Uhles said: “I think it will have a tremendous business impact in a lot of different realms. First of all, we will have the direct impact of SpaceX, which is 600 good-paying jobs. Other companies will come here to support SpaceX. You will have their customers come here to Brownsville. But, we think even more about the impact it will have on the education system. It will be a tremendous boost for our astrophysics program at UT-Brownsville. We really think we will have things grow out of this to help the community,” Uhles told the Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

Dr. Guy Bailey, president of UT-Rio Grande Valley, was at the news conference at the Brownsville EDC offices. “This is a huge opportunity for the university. This will spur opportunities for our students. It will help us recruit faculty. It will provide jobs for students who graduate. It is hard to calculate the positive impact this will have on UT-RGV,” Bailey told the Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

Dr. Fredrick A. Jenet is chair of the North American Dr. Frederick A. Jenet is chair of the North American Nano-Hertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves and director of the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy at UT-Brownsville. “I think it is safe to say this is a game changer for everyone here in the Rio Grande Valley. Their (SpaceX) coming here is going to create a culture of entrepreneurship and research that we have never seen down here in the Valley and it is basically going to put us on the map globally.

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez was asked what word sums up the SpaceX announcement. His replay was “awesome.” He predicted it would be a “life changing” situation for Brownsville, the whole Valley and the state of Texas. “What a historical moment for the greater Brownsville region and the State of Texas. It’s the culmination of a dream and a vision that began more than three years ago. We will ensure that SpaceX has everything they need in order to be successful in the Greater Brownsville Borderplex. The team effort would have never succeeded but for the immense support of the people of Brownsville, all of its surrounding neighbors and the state – to all of you ‘mil gracias’ and watch us soar.”

NASA astronaut Mike Fossum, a McAllen native, told 710 News Talk KURV that the SpaceX announcement had made the front page of the newspaper in Houston. “This is a completely different ballgame. This is different from anything else close to the Valley. It is a huge opportunity. We used to dream about watching rockets launch as kids growing up down there and now, knowing that we will see rockets launch from the Rio Grande Valley… it is an exciting day, it really is. We’ve got a lot of work ahead but the Valley is up for it. The future is bright.”

In his news release, Gov. Perry gave a breakdown of the incentive packages used to lure SpaceX to Brownsville. He said the State of Texas is offering $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund to bring SpaceX’s commercial rocket launch facility to Cameron County. Contingent upon final approval of local agreements and receipt of additional required permits, this facility will create 300 jobs and pump $85 million in capital investment into the local economy, the news release stated.

“Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight,” Perry said. “In addition to growing the aerospace industry in Texas, SpaceX’s facility will provide myriad opportunities for STEM education in South Texas, and inspire a new generation of Texas engineers and innovators.”

According to the news release, the State of Texas and SpaceX first discussed this potential project in the spring of 2011 during a TexasOne mission to California. Perry has since met with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and provided letters in support of SpaceX’s efforts to get FAA clearance for the site. The news release said the Governor’s staff has worked closely with local officials in South Texas throughout the process, and also testified before the FAA in support of bringing the project to Texas.

Perry said that in addition to the TEF investment, the state is also offering $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. The fund is used to support the development of infrastructure necessary for establishing a spaceport.

The news release stated these facts about SpaceX: “SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft, and is the world’s fastest-growing provider of launch services. It is the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it first accomplished in December 2010. SpaceX is also the first private company to attach a spacecraft to the International Space Station, exchange cargo payloads, and return safely to Earth – a technically challenging feat previously only accomplished by government space programs. SpaceX operates a Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas which has grown to over 250 employees since starting operations in 2003. The Brownsville facility will launch commercial satellites.”

Perry’s news release pointed out that Texas has a long history with both public and private spaceflight. “NASA’s Johnson Space Center served as a hub for America’s human space exploration program from the early Gemini, Apollo and Skylab projects to today’s Space Shuttle and International Space Station Programs. Texas was also the launch site for the Conestoga 1 in 1982, one of the first privately funded rockets to reach space,” the news release stated.

UT-Brownsville President Dr. Juliet V. Garcia could not be at the news conference. However, she issued this statement: “This is clear evidence of what can happen when a community and its leadership focus on achieving a goal together. The university is proud to have played a pivotal role in helping recruit SpaceX to our region.”

Louis Dartez, an alumnus of UT-Brownsville, was at the news conference. A 2009 graduate of the UTB Mathematics and Science Academy, Dartez earned his M.S. in physics at UTB in May of this year. He is set to begin working on his Ph.D. in physics in three weeks with the onset of the fall semester. Dartez said physics students will have opportunities like never before. “The decision by SpaceX to select our area benefits the students of today and tomorrow.”

State Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, authored the legislation that allows for Boca Chica beach to be closed during SpaceX rocket launches. He also worked to get incentive funding from the State of Texas for the project.

“We were blessed by a great geographical location, overwhelming local support, and a generous incentives package from the state. We worked hard at every level to create the best chance possible to bring the project home. It underscores that our local entities are working well together to bring new opportunities to our region,” Oliveira said.

“We have demonstrated to the space industry that we want to be at the forefront of its development here in Texas. This is a landmark announcement for the Rio Grande Valley.”

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, issued this statement about SpaceX: “Countless city, county, state, and federal officials have worked diligently with SpaceX for years to make today’s announcement a reality. I congratulate all who helped bring SpaceX to South Texas, especially Mr. Elon Musk who saw the potential of our region through his vision about continued space exploration.

“The establishment of a SpaceX launch facility will be tremendously beneficial for South Texas’ economy and provide unique educational opportunities for students, scientists, researchers and create jobs locally. Already, there is a proposed project between the University of Texas at Brownsville and SpaceX, named STARGATE, which will allow students and faculty to use cutting-edge equipment to track satellites and spacecraft. I will continue to support SpaceX and fellow community leaders as we move forward with the project.”

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, is a member of the Senate Committee on Finance. He pushed hard to get state incentive funds for SpaceX during the last legislative session. He was a co-author with Oliveira on legislation to restrict access to Boca Chica beach during rocket launches.

“I couldn’t be happier about today’s announcement, nor more excited about the possibilities this new Texas partnership with SpaceX will produce.  SpaceX’s future launch site will soon become an invaluable economic driver for South Texas.  With this site comes tens of millions of dollars in capital investment in our community annually, and hundreds of well-paying jobs over the next decade.  We’ve set up South Texas as a future leader in developing bleeding-edge space technology which will influence future commerce for the whole planet.

“Working with my fellow delegation members to support legislation to attract SpaceX to Texas was one of my proudest achievements of the last legislative session. Since then, I have continued to work as a liaison between the Governor’s office and our local officials to ensure we continued to make the best case for the company locating to Texas. Today, after years of work from our local elected officials and economic development corporations, and then months of waiting with bated breath for FAA clearance, finally, the Rio Grande Valley has been guaranteed its space port,” Lucio said.

“I hope the new launch site will propel a dramatic culture change in our region of the state, encouraging more of our children to pursue careers in engineering and science. Future generation of South Texas residents will look to this site and know that not even the sky is the limit for where their dreams may take them.”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, also praised the SpaceX announcement. “Today is a historic day for South Texas. Texas has long been the epicenter of our nation’s space program and Space X’s new commercial launch facility will ensure that we continue to lead the world in the future of space exploration and discovery,” Cornyn said.

Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT System, also spoke about the SpaceX announcement.

“This tremendous opportunity for the Rio Grande Valley and the entire state of Texas provides a unique window bright with the promise of 21st century careers in science and engineering for students of The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Our students will be in close proximity to the world’s first commercial launch complex designed for orbital missions, and UT System leaders are thrilled to partner together with SpaceX to provide unprecedented educational opportunities. I’d like to thank Gov. Rick Perry and state and local leaders who worked so hard to build this partnership and bring SpaceX to South Texas.”