April 23, 2016 – On April 20, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act, bipartisan legislation 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).
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.
“Because space weather may have severe implications for our economic and national security as well as the potential to interrupt the delivery of essential services, it’s important that we prioritize the research and development necessary to reduce the risk and allow our nation to react and recover from these events,” said Gardner.
“It may be hard to conceive of the impact space weather can have on our planet, but make no mistake, extreme space weather events can cause catastrophic damage to our nation’s infrastructure and economy,” said Booker. “This bill will help us to prepare, predict, and mitigate these extreme events.”
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.
“As chair of the 2013 Decadal Survey Committee on Solar and Space Physics, I am delighted this legislation has been introduced and want to thank Senator Peters and Senator Gardner for their leadership. I believe this legislation will be instrumental in helping the nation achieve the kind of operational space weather system that we’ve long needed. The bill will allow science, engineering, and the applications thereof to contribute to continued U.S. leadership in this area, ” said Professor Dan Baker, Director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric Space Physics (LASP) at University of Colorado Boulder.
“This first of its kind legislation in regards to space weather demonstrates a solid understanding of the problems and solutions and is a fantastic first step,” said Dr. Scott McIntosh, Director of the High Altitude Observatory. “I am grateful that Senators Peters, Gardner and Booker worked with our community and I thank them for their leadership on this critical national issue.”
“Space weather can adversely affect satellites resulting in the loss of critical systems, such as communications, hurricane and severe weather forecasting and GPS or location-based services, that depend on space-based networks and support our daily way of life,” said Tom Stroup, President of the Satellite Industry Association (SIA). “Early warning and prediction of space weather can help mitigate the economic effects both in space and here on the ground. In this regard, SIA and its members support the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act that codifies several actions identified in the National Space Weather Action Plan.”