STARGATE celebrates grand opening

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey delivers a speech Monday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school's STARGATE research facility near Boca Chica Beach east of Brownsville. (Ryan Henry/The Brownsville Herald)

With SpaceX on the verge of commencing prototype testing at its Boca Chica Beach rocket launch site just down the road, STARGATE Technology Center held a grand-opening ceremony on Monday.

STARGATE is an acronym for “Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Giga-hertz Astrophysical Transient Emission.” It is a public-private collaboration between the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy and “community partners,” according to UTRGV.

The $2.2 million facility, funded in part by a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration announced in 2014, will house research into new radio frequency-based technologies for a wide range of academic and commercial applications.

The 15,000-square-foot facility, which broke ground in late 2016, will serve as a base for radio frequency labs, classrooms, business incubator offices, and flexible lab and research space near the SpaceX site.

In addition to satellite and spaceflight tracking and core research, STARGATE’s five-year goals include getting an industry mentoring program for students up and running, publishing a list of available equipment for researchers, businesses and incubator members, hosting a business plan competition, hosting an entrepreneurship/angel investing forum, publishing reports on commercialization successes and host showcase public events.

STARGATE, conceived by UTRGV physics and astronomy associate professor Rick Jenet, will also give UTRGV students a chance to be directly involved in all aspects of a space mission, including spacecraft design, testing, launch and orbital operations.

At the Sept. 22, 2014, ceremonial groundbreaking for the Boca Chica SpaceX site, then-Gov. Rick Perry announced a $9 million investment in STARGATE, $4.4 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and $4.6 million from the UT System.

In 2012, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation committed $500,000 in seed money to STARGATE. That grant and the other funding was contingent on SpaceX actually coming to Boca Chica, which it did. The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company said initial tests of its “Starship Hopper” prototype may take place this week at the site.

In his remarks at the STARGATE ceremony, which drew a number of dignitaries, UTRGV President Guy Bailey said the new facility represents “the future of what we do.”

“If you go around the United States you’ll find very few universities that have a facility like this,” he said. “It’s truly a red letter day to us.”

Jorge Ayala, EDA regional director, said STARGATE is a unique and transformational economic-development project, and that EDA will continue to be a partner as things develop.

“I’ve seen pretty much every kind of economic development project that’s out there, so it’s hard to surprise me,” he said. “This one definitely is on that list.”

Ayala predicted STARGATE will have an impact well beyond Brownsville “for the foreseeable future.”

“I’m very much looking forward to the first (SpaceX) launch,” he said. “I think we all are.”