April 27, 2016 – The U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee today approved U.S. Senator Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act, bipartisan legislation introduced with Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) to improve efforts to predict and mitigate the effects of space weather events, which can have significant economic and security implications, on Earth and in space.
The legislation will strengthen space weather research and response by delineating clear roles and responsibilities to the agencies that study and predict space weather events, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Defense (DOD).
“I’m pleased the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act,” said Gardner. “Because space weather has the potential to significantly impact our economy, it’s important that we invest in research to protect our critical infrastructure and strengthen our response and recovery efforts to prepare for space weather events. I look forward to the Senate’s full consideration of this legislation.”
Space weather events are caused by constantly changing conditions in the Sun’s magnetic fields and have the potential to disrupt the electric power grid, communications networks, GPS, satellites and aircraft operations leading to serious economic and safety consequences. These events can impact infrastructure and businesses, including causing outages at electric utilities, disrupting GPS and communication networks, and forcing airlines to reroute air traffic, resulting in multi-million dollar economic damages. Estimates for damages from a worst-case scenario space weather event could be up to $2 trillion and impact as many as 40 million people.
The Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act legislation strengthens space weather research by directing federal agencies to develop new tools and technologies to improve forecasting and develop benchmark standards to describe space weather disturbances and their potential impacts to Earth. The legislation also directs NOAA to develop plans to provide a back-up for the aging Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, the only satellite providing imagery of space weather that could impact Earth. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be directed to use space weather research and information to assess national preparedness for interference from space weather and determine critical infrastructure that may be impacted.