Expanding Frontiers Launch Report 2020

The most exciting year

in space since 1969


LETTER FROM the Executive Director

The last year has been the most exciting and consequential in space exploration since Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon in 1969. On May 30, a privately owned company launched American astronauts into orbit and delivered them safely to the International Space Station. When those same astronauts safely landed two months later, the dawn of the commercial space era had officially arrived. That very same week SpaceX successfully tested its latest Starship prototype with a 150 meter hop at Boca Chica Beach, right in our own backyard. Also this year, the U.S. government sanctioned the Space Force, the first new branch of the military in decades, with a specific focus on protecting U.S. assets in space with help from private industry. These developments mark sea changes in their own right. Taken together, what they signal is that commercial space exploration is here to stay—and opportunities abound.

According to Morgan Stanley, commercial space was a $350 billion industry in 2019. By 2040, they estimate it will grow to $1.1 trillion. It’s an auspicious time for Expanding Frontiers and our mission. Since we officially launched in July 2019 we have made steady and meaningful progress toward building a commercial space development ecosystem in South Texas. In the report that follows, you’ll see how we have raised awareness about commercial space opportunities, ran programs to teach students and veterans how to get involved, helped start and attract commercial space startups, and forged crucial partnerships with industry leaders that will help us have an even bigger impact. We’ve done a lot; we have a ton more to do.

We are deeply grateful to some far-sighted supporters. The City of Brownsville and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation have been vital partners, as have the Brownsville Independent School District, UTRGV, NASA, and the National Space Society. We’ve benefited from the work of countless volunteers, who believe in our mission and in the potential of making Brownsville an international, even interplanetary, destination—New Space City. To all of our supporters, let me say thank you. I hope you’ll consider continuing to support us in this brave new moment for Brownsville, for the United States, and for all of humanity.

New Space City Brownsville

Looking back, we launched at just the right time and in exactly the right place.

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On July 11, 2019, Expanding Frontiers (together with the City of Brownsville) officially launched New Space City Brownsville with a ribbon-cutting event at our new home in the old Pan-Am building at the Brownsville-SPI airport. Later that afternoon, Expanding Frontiers hosted a panel discussion at Texas Southmost College. The commercial space tech forum, the first of the Vibrant Lecture Series, featured commercial space experts discussing the pillars of the New Space economy.

Current and former NASA employees, the director of the New York City Space Alliance, and a co-founder of the Silicon Valley Space Center participated in an animated hour-long panel discussion on what opportunities the commercialization of space presented and how the people of Brownsville might seize them. More than 100 people attended, and many stayed long after to ask detailed questions of the panelists.

Student Programming

Right away, we got students involved. Students who might not otherwise have ever gotten this level of exposure to the new space industry.

Space Entrepreneur Summer Academy

Last July, some enterprising students experienced a summer camp like no other: a crash course in astropreneurship. The three-week program, held on the UTRGV Brownsville campus and in close collaboration with BISD, exposed ambitious high school students to the opportunities for careers in new space. Guest speakers from NASA, the Silicon Valley Space Center, the Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy, and other industry leaders introduced students to an industry rising in their own backyards. New space, also referred to as “commercial space,” is a new paradigm where private companies, rather than government agencies, lead the way in democratizing and monetizing space exploration. During the three weeks, students took field trips to the Low Frequency All Sky Monitor (LoFASM) and STARGATE sites near Boca Chica beach. They also received hands-on training in business planning and public speaking, both of which should come in handy when these academy graduates go on to start their own companies.

On New Space: Space Entrepreneurs Summer Academy 2019

Space Settlement Design Tournament

On Aug. 23-25, 2019, 80 students from Brownsville ISD schools participated in a space settlement design tournament, the first of its kind in South Texas. The theme of the competition was a 2050 Lunar Mining Settlement. Over three days, the students divided into four teams, each of which developed business plans for companies as though they were competing for contracts to build a mining settlement on the moon. After some extensive coaching in business and mission planning, engineering, and public speaking, the students pitched their plans to a panel of judges, including current and former NASA executives involved with the agency’s engineering and technology transfer operations. The winning team earned a two-day trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston and an in-depth tour of the facility.

UTRGV’s Jenet, BISD, BCIC partner to offer future space settlement design competition

“There’s some magic going on with Expanding Frontiers. With the Space Settlement Design Tournament, we are exposing the students to the kinds of experiences not taught in schools, so they know what it’s like in the industry. That way they know why they need to understand math and physics.”

Anita Gale

Founder, Space Settlement Design Competition

Press About Us


For humanity to embark on becoming a spacefaring civilization, there must be an economic incentive. Absent an existential threat to the planet, space exploration can only command the time and resources necessary to make it possible with the promise of economic gain. It stands to reason that if we can create a market in space, industry and entrepreneurs will follow. Rockets & Rigs was born out of figuring out how to get heavy industry interested in the space economy. Being in Texas, the oil and gas industry was an obvious first candidate to start working with. We approached key players in both industries, including NASA, and our first goal was to identify common challenges between oil and gas and space. Once we identified those challenges, we explored some NASA technology and identified a methodology for determining which might be candidates for commercialization. From June 12-14, 2019, we convened a group of oil and gas executives and paired them with leaders in space startups and NASA’s technology transfer division, college professors, and some students for a structured hack-a-thon. The teams reviewed 13 technologies, ranging from water purification to advanced imaging for leak detection, and for each one developed value propositions and roadmaps to commercializing them in space, on Earth, or both. Since then two of those plans have become startup companies in the Expanding Frontiers portfolio, and more are on their way. The program has proven to be a pathway to educate heavy industry about space technology and how it can be more widely used. The space industry, in turn, has learned much about how to commercialize technology. This fall, Rockets & Rigs was named the winner of a 2020 Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer’s State and Local Economic Development Award.

Launching and Attracting Companies

We brought astropreneurs to South Texas and we grew a few of our own.

“Expanding Frontiers can become a big organization. If fueled properly, we can be the gateway for new space companies. I envision Expanding Frontiers doing activities to start changing the culture of the valley, retain more homegrown talent, and improve our labor force. We need a larger public presence.”



Strategic Partnerships

We forged new partnerships to extend
the reach and impact of our work.


When it comes to new space, there’s no more important partner than NASA. That’s why Expanding Frontiers is proud to have finalized the NASA Space Act Agreement. The partnership makes Expanding Frontiers a custodian and concierge of NASA technology, and it allows companies in the Expanding Frontiers umbrella unprecedented access to NASA’s technology transfer database.

MOU with National Space Society

Expanding Frontiers has executed a formal memo of understanding with the National Space Society, one of the oldest and most respected space advocacy groups. Founded by Dr. Werner Von Braun, father of American space program, the society’s vision is: “People living and working in thriving communities beyond the Earth, and the use of the vast resources of space for the dramatic betterment of humanity.” The MOU establishes a closer collaboration between Expanding Frontiers and NSS, including joint astropreneurship events, and the creation of the National Space Society South Texas Chapter within Expanding Frontiers.

we sought out a major untapped potential for new space – veterans of the United States Military.



To build a commercial space economy, nothing is more important than talent. One hugely untapped resource for talent is veterans of the U.S. military, especially highly skilled enlisted servicemen and women without college degrees. Founded by Scott Castle, the Veteran Ascension Program aims to find, attract, and support highly trained veterans to careers in the commercial space industry and commercial space startups.

Veterans have many hard and soft skills that make them ideal for careers in new space: they are disciplined, work well in teams, often have highly technical engineering abilities, and are mission-driven. Expanding Frontiers actively matches veterans with companies who need their talents, and then supports veterans as they integrate into civilian life more broadly. 

“If people knew that hidden deep down beneath the news there’s a glorious ember burning in Brownsville, Texas, that is ready to burst out, they would be thrilled.”




We started to get the word out


On July 11, 2019, Expanding Frontiers, together with the City of Brownsville, officially launched New Space City Brownsville. That afternoon, Expanding Frontiers hosted the inaugural Commercial Space Tech Forum, a panel discussion at Texas Southmost College. Current and former NASA employees, the director of the New York City Space Alliance, and a co-founder of the Silicon Valley Space Center participated in an animated hour-long panel discussion on what opportunities the commercialization of space presented and how the people of Brownsville might seize them.


The New Space City Brownsville Commercial Space Webinar series convenes experts to discuss the pillars of the new space industry, from rocket companies to 3D printing to satellite and communications industries, and more. The featured speakers range in background from venture capitalists to astropreneurs to retired military leaders. The first hour-long discussion was broadcast by the Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau on Facebook Live May 1, 2020. Upcoming episodes, planned to roll out quarterly, will explore many themes in commercial space, including discussions on transitioning from old space to new space, technology transfer, women and minorities in new space, and telling the story of commercial space.

Special thanks to our sponsor Visit Brownsville for their support.

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