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STARGATE to launch UTRGV as leader in space exploration research

BROWNSVILLE – Gov. Rick Perry announced today a combined investment of $9 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and The University of Texas System to create a powerful research and technology commercialization partnership that will create limitless possibilities for South Texas.

The governor spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony for SpaceX, a much-anticipated private space launch facility being built by business magnate and inventor Elon Musk at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville.

"This announcement represents a huge step forward for our state and continues our nation's proud legacy of scientific advancement," Perry said. "It builds upon our pioneer heritage, our tradition of thinking bigger, dreaming bolder, and daring to do the impossible. SpaceX is the latest in a long line of forward-thinking companies that have made Texas home, and I couldn't be prouder to help break ground on this revolutionary new facility."

The launch and control facility presents extraordinary opportunities for the development of high-tech jobs for South Texas, both directly with SpaceX and with the associated commercial development it will draw to the Rio Grande Valley. For The University of Texas System, the arrival of SpaceX provides a platform for the establishment of STARGATE – the first research center of excellence for the new UT Rio Grande Valley. STARGATE will be a cooperative effort with SpaceX to develop and support commercialization of phased-array technology for satellite and space vehicle communication.

The STARGATE facility will be a radio frequency technology park located adjacent to the SpaceX launch site command center. SpaceX will assemble and launch their signature advanced rockets and spacecraft, with launches every month at the Boca Chica Beach site. When not being used for launches, SpaceX facilities will be used by student and faculty researchers at STARGATE for training, scientific research and technology development.

“This is more than a once-in-a-generation or once-in-a-lifetime moment; this is history in the making,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, M.D. “The research partnerships we are establishing hold the promise to catapult the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to the leading edge in the study of astrophysics. Our students and faculty will be assisting with space launches and exploration – that is a matchless experience that offers incredible possibilities for research.”

UT Brownsville’s Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA) will initially partner with SpaceX to create STARGATE. UTB’s world class teaching and research program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy was key to establishing the partnership. Many UTB students who study astrophysics go on to graduate school at internationally-renowned programs after earning their degrees at UT Brownsville.

"Virtually overnight, STARGATE is establishing UTB as a leader in space exploration research, giving worldwide recognition to the new University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, and it will have a tremendous impact on our faculty and especially our students,” said Fredrick A. Jenet, Ph.D., the creator of the STARGATE project and the director of CARA. 

Juliet V. García, Ph.D., former UTB president and executive director of The University of Texas Institute of the Americas, credits the work of visionary professors like Jenet who were originally recruited to UTB to establish the university as an international front-runner in astrophysics.

“Once in a great while, the planets align so that we might take a giant step forward. This is one of those moments,” García said. “Because of the good work of these visionaries, UTB is now poised to become a global leader in astrophysics, and our students will be positioned to lead the next generation of scientific research and explore the many opportunities related to the space industry.”

STARGATE comes at a momentous time with UTRGV on track to welcome students in August 2015. The assets and resources of UT Brownsville and nearby UT Pan American are being combined to create the new UT Rio Grande Valley which will span the entire region and be home to a school of medicine. 

“UTRGV will be focused on research, and STARGATE will provide a strong research anchor and a pipeline of researchers, innovators and leaders that will help UTRGV reach global status,” said UTRGV President Guy Bailey, Ph.D.

A total of $4.4 million from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, $4.6 million from the UT System and $500,000 from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation will enable STARGATE researchers to develop the next generation of radio signal receiving and transmitting systems based on "phased-array" technology. This technology has the potential to be transformational in the commercial space and aviation sectors as well as in commercial communications markets. UT System’s contribution will primarily fund facilities and support infrastructure for the project.

In addition to laboratories for research and development, STARGATE will also be home to a focused business incubator that will help promote space exploration related businesses in the region. 

"STARGATE makes South Texas a destination for students like me who are interested in both the science and hands-on, practical training,” said James Murray, a senior in UTB’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The STARGATE project has been under development for almost two years and has generated strong support locally and across the state.

“The City of Brownsville is proud to partner with the university on the STARGATE project,” said Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez. “STARGATE, in collaboration with SpaceX, will make a profound difference in the career opportunities for our students; and going forward, it will positively impact the lives of future generations.”

Other participants in STARGATE include the local firms of Consulting Point and GOBAR industries. Future participants of STARGATE include current collaborators of CARA such as the Texas Advanced Computing Center in Austin, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Cornell University’s Department of Astronomy and the Arecibo Radio Observatory.

About The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 in a historic move that will combine the resources and assets of UT Brownsville and UT Pan American and, for the first time, make it possible for residents of the Rio Grande Valley to benefit from the Permanent University Fund. The institution will also be home to a School of Medicine and will transform Texas and the nation by becoming a leader in student success, teaching, research and healthcare. UTRGV will enroll its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine will open in 2016.

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and a fall 2013 enrollment of more than 213,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $14.6 billion (FY 2014) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 90,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state