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SpaceX puts Rio Grande Valley town in spotlight

Commercial space company building rockets in Boca Chica

BOCA CHICA, Texas – If you don't know where Boca Chica, Texas, is on the map, Elon Musk will be happy to show you.

Musk's commercial space company, SpaceX, is building rockets in the tiny town near Brownsville in the Rio Grande Valley. 

As construction moves along, traffic is increasing, especially now that the latest prototype is visible. 

When Maria Pointer moved to Boca Chica, she never imagined what the town could become. 

"A lot of traffic -- more traffic, more trucks, more interested fans of Elon Musk," said Pointer, who lives next to the construction site of the Starship Hopper prototype. 

"They’ve built a rocket," she said. 

The spaceport is part of a vision of SpaceX CEO Musk. 

In a tweet, Musk said his company will first conduct vertical flight tests. 

After the tests, SpaceX will build an orbital version of the rocket ship. 

Not only are locals getting a sneak peek, but visitors are curious, too. 
 
"I think it's great. It's putting the Valley on the map," said Joe Garza, of McAllen. 

"When we first drove up, I saw it before he did. I was amazed. It was so close that you see it," said Linda Weynand, a visitor. 

It's unclear when the first Starship Hopper test will happen, after the prototype was damaged by strong winds Wednesday morning. According to a tweet by Musk, winds were powerful enough to break the rocket free of its mooring blocks, knocking it on its side. The damage will take a few weeks to repair, Musk said in a tweet.  

The launch site is less than 2 miles from the Rio Grande River and security was one of the topics discussed during the planning of the SpaceX facility. 

"I remember when we were meeting with Homeland Security and some of those Border Patrol, federal agencies. They said having a company out there is going to help us have more boots and eyes on the ground," said Gilberto Salinas, chief operating officer of Kerrville Economic Development Corp.  
 
Salinas was part of the team that helped bring SpaceX to Texas, while serving on the Brownsville Economic Development Council. 

"There's a huge amount of dirt out there that has been there for a while. (It) naturally settle(s). It's called soil surcharging. That's where they are going to build the platform where the rockets will get launched," Salinas said. "Across from that, you have these two huge antenna dishes, which are used as their ground-tracking stations, which is used to track the vehicle once it's traveling in space." 

Salinas said the geography is attractive to SpaceX. Boca Chica is one of the southernmost points in the country. 

"From there, they can launch an easterly direction or a large body of water and shoot that gap between Cuba and Florida and then off into space," Salinas said. 

As a neighbor, Pointer knows there will be growing pains.

"We’ve had to block our driveway, and we've talked to SpaceX about the traffic flow. It's got a lot of people worried," Pointer said. 

As a space exploration fan herself, Pointer knows it's about a bigger mission.

During the groundbreaking in Boca Chica in 2014, Musk said, "Long-term goal is to create the technology necessary, enough to take humanity beyond Earth, take humanity to Mars." 

Besides bringing jobs and helping the local economy, SpaceX has worked with the local university, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. 

SpaceX collaborated with UTRGV for a project called Stargate, which give students the opportunity to research and learn about the industry.

To read more about Stargate, click here.


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