WASHINGTON, DC – Bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) to strengthen the nation’s ability to predict severe space weather events and mitigate their harmful impacts on Earth advanced in the Senate today. The Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act directs the federal agencies that study and predict space weather to coordinate with the private sector to assess the potential impacts of space weather on the United States. The bill also authorizes those agencies to determine what new research and technology is needed to improve the ability to forecast space weather events, such as a solar flare or coronal mass ejection that have the potential to seriously disrupt the electric power grid, communications networks including cellular phones and GPS, satellites and aircraft operations.
“Extreme space weather events could harm our infrastructure, economy and national security,” said Senator Peters. “It is our responsibility to protect the vast telecommunications system that our schools, businesses and servicemen and women rely upon every day. I am pleased my bipartisan legislation advanced to the full Senate, and I will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to ensure that this legislation is signed into law.”
“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 urge my colleague in the full Senate and House of Representatives to expeditiously approve this legislation and look forward to continuing our efforts on this important issue.”
The legislation outlines clear roles and responsibilities for those federal agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The bill also directs NOAA to develop plans for backup of aging Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, the only currently operating satellite providing imagery of space weather that could impact Earth. The bill also directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use space weather research and information to identify critical infrastructure that could be disrupted by space weather.
Space weather events are caused by constantly changing conditions in the Sun’s magnetic fields that create solar flares, which are built up energy released as a burst of radiation, or coronal mass ejections (CME), which are explosions of the Sun’s magnetic fields and ionized gas releasing radiation and energized particles that interact with the Earth’s magnetic fields. This can be observed on Earth as the Northern and Southern lights.
Space weather has the potential to impact infrastructure on Earth and severely disrupt the economy. An estimate by Lloyds of London found that a worst-case scenario space weather event could cost up to $2.6 trillion in lost productivity and impact as many as 40 million people by causing outages or blackouts of electric utilities, disrupting GPS and communication networks and forcing airlines to reroute air traffic.
Peters and Gardner previously introduced the bill in the 115th Congress, where it unanimously passed the Senate. U.S. Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Mo Brooks (R-AL) will be introducing companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Commerce Committee also passed the Space Frontier Act, bipartisan legislation that Peters helped introduce with Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ed Markey (D-MA) to reform commercial launch and remote sensing regulations and extend International Space Station operations through 2030.