Los Fresnos News

Physics Students Testify at Environmental Impact Public Hearing for SpaceX


BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – MAY 8, 2013 – Several physics students from The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College spoke at a public hearing regarding SpaceX’s proposed Boca Chica Beach launch site on Wednesday, May 7 at the International Technology, Education and Commerce Center on Mexico Boulevard in Brownsville.

The public meeting was held to present project details and gather testimony from the public focused on the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the site. Some of the aspects looked at in the statement include noise, biological resources, environmental justice and transboundary impacts.
Some of the first statements made during the public comment time were from university students. They expressed support for the project and looked forward to the career and economic possibilities that could come with such a business venture.

“If I wanted to pursue my career in astrophysics I would need to leave my community,” said Alberto Mata, 20, a junior physics major from Brownsville and a graduate of Hanna High School. “It impacts me and future generations of students because they could potentially see SpaceX as an incentive for future students to stay in our community.”

Brownsville resident and Porter High School alumnus Jose Martinez, 22, a senior who will graduate at the university’s Spring Commencement on Saturday, May 11 with a bachelor’s degree in physics, said he wants to one day work for SpaceX.

“As I prepare myself to walk this weekend, I think about my future. The future is right in front of me with SpaceX in Brownsville,” he said.

Some of the features of the proposed private spaceport include:

  • Up to 12 launches per year.
  • The launching of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy suborbital launch vehicles. Some of these may carry a capsule such as the SpaceX Dragon Capsule.
  • A vertical launch area and control area constructed within two years.
  • Up to 30 full-time employees and contractors working at the site with the number of workers increasing to an additional 100 workers to conduct work before, during and after launches.

Louis Dartez, 22, a graduate student in physics from Los Fresnos and Brownsville and a 2009 graduate of the university’s Mathematics and Science Academy, said SpaceX provides expertise and guidance that is not available now for students interested in astrophysics.

But Dartez said he can make comparisons between SpaceX and the work his classmates do in the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy based at the ITECC. Students build radio antenna arrays to study short bursts of radio radiation of unknown origin, perhaps by the collision of two stars.

“We are a very innovative group and we get problems and tackle them,” he said. “The way we do things is synonymous with SpaceX. We take pride and are compassionate about it.”

SpaceX is also looking at sites in Camden County, Georgia and Volusia County, Fla. to build a commercial launch site.
Public comments are due to the FAA by Monday, June 3. After that the agency will develop a final Environmental Impact Statement and have a 30-day waiting period before giving a Record of Decision.