Starbase building rocket factory as SpaceX helps shape Harlingen

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HARLINGEN — As the rocket manufacturer transforms the Rio Grande Valley, SpaceX is helping shape Harlingen, with many of its growing numbers of employees settling down here, Kathy Lueders, Starbase’s general manager, told area leaders.

On Tuesday, Lueders said the company building a rocket production plant at its expanding Starbase site off State Highway 4 near Boca Chica Beach is developing a second launch pad, with future plans to send its Starship rocket to Mars.

Opening the 90-minute presentation hosted by the city’s Economic Development Corporation, Orlando Campos, the agency’s chief executive officer, described SpaceX’s “transformation” of the area as “profound.”

“SpaceX is the gateway to Mars right here in our region,” Mayor Norma Sepulveda told the audience at Texas State Technical College. “SpaceX has raised Cameron County’s profile on the largest scale.”

In the audience, local leaders shared stories of SpaceX’s growing reach in the area, with City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez talking about a local developer joining the company’s expanding numbers of suppliers.

At another table, Mickey Boland, Frost Bank’s market president, talked about a customer whose company’s working for the rocket manufacturer.

“We are excited to welcome any supplier to the city of Harlingen,” Sepulveda told the audience.

From the podium, Lueders offered a glimpse into Elon Musk’s Starbase, now with 2,100 full-time employees and contractors.

“We have been putting billions into this area,” Lueders, NASA’s former associate administrator who led its human spaceflight program, told area leaders. “We have a huge population of folks living in this area. Once they start putting their roots down, that’s how we keep our best talent here.”

Founded in 2002, SpaceX has been developing Starbase for nearly 10 years, Lueders said.

“Starbase is going to be the home of Starship,” she said. “What’s amazing’s all the work and investment in Texas in the last 10 years.”

At Starbase, the company’s been developing its Starship program, boasting the industry’s largest, most powerful rockets, standing 397 feet.

During the last year, SpaceX has turned out historic developments.

On April 20, 2023, Starbase launched its first integrated Starship test flight before conducting its second flight on Nov. 18.

Then on March 14’s third integrated flight, Starship re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.

“This is a company that continues to learn, make things better and grow,” Lueders said.

Lueders called Starship’s re-entry “the gamechanger.”

“We’re looking at bringing back the booster and the Starship,” she said. “In each of our orbited missions, we’ve taken it just a little bit farther.”

At Starbase, the company is working toward Musk’s vision of man’s colonization of space.

“We are aiming to land a crew member … on the moon,” Lueders said. “We’ve got a lot of learning to do before we go to Mars. I do know that someday there’ll be a Starship going to Mars out of the Rio Grande Valley.”

In a video showcasing Starship’s historic re-entry, Lueders unveiled a glimpse into Starbase, described as the home of SpaceX development, manufacturing, testing and launching of its Starship program.

Inside, the company’s developing a space city off Highway 4 near Boca Chica Beach featuring a 1-million square-foot rocket production factory, high-rise office buildings and a second launch pad while planning to build a highway, the video showed.

“We are expanding our village and capabilities,” she said, adding 3,000 people work at Starbase daily, with homes being built along with children’s classrooms and even a dog park.