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Senate Committee Approves Bipartisan Space Weather Prediction Legislation

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today unanimously approved the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act, bipartisan legislation introduced earlier this month by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Roger Wicker (R-MS), and cosponsored by Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The bill aims to better predict and mitigate the impacts of the extreme space weather events, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which are naturally occurring changes in emissions from the sun that can cause disruptions to the electrical power grid and communication networks, resulting in safety risks and economic damage.

“A serious space weather event can compromise our infrastructure, damage our economy and pose a significant threat to our national security,” said Senator Peters, Ranking Member of the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee. “Committee passage of this legislation is an important step towards ensuring our federal agencies have the ability to predict and respond to space weather events and protect our vast communications systems in the event of extreme space weather.”

“The Senate Commerce Committee’s passage of bipartisan space weather legislation today brings us one step closer to having a response and recovery plan in place if a space weather event occurs,” said Senator Gardner. “This bill is important to protect critical infrastructure across the country and I look forward to working with my colleagues to see this bill become law.”

“We know that space weather events have the potential to cause trillions of dollars in damage and disrupt vital infrastructure networks,” said Senator Booker. “Today’s committee vote means that this bill is one step closer to empowering federal agencies with the critical resources they need to predict and plan for space weather events and prevent catastrophe.”

“This legislation has real momentum for good reason,” Senator Wicker said. “Predicting space weather more accurately could help us avoid costly risks to public safety. Giving federal agencies such as NASA, NOAA, and FAA the right tools to improve coordination is a necessary step to mitigate these risks.”

“Improving our forecasting capabilities will strengthen our ability to detect and predict dangerous space weather events that have the potential to cause major disruptions,” Klobuchar said. “I am pleased our bill received bipartisan support in the Commerce Committee and will now move to the full Senate for consideration. I’ll continue working with my colleagues to ensure that we are doing all that we can to enhance public safety and protect national security.”

The Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act strengthens space weather research by directing federal agencies to develop new tools and technologies to improve forecasting and set benchmark standards to measure space weather disturbances and their potential impacts to Earth. The legislation outlines clear roles and responsibilities for the federal 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), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The legislation also directs NOAA to develop plans to provide a back-up for the aging Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, the only currently operating 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 and support critical infrastructure providers that may be impacted by space weather. 

Constantly changing conditions in the Sun’s magnetic fields create solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are observed on Earth as the Northern and Southern Lights. Solar flares are built up energy released as bursts of radiation, while CMEs are explosions of the Sun’s magnetic fields and ionized gas releasing radiation and energized particles that interact with the Earth’s magnetic fields.

Space weather has the potential to impact infrastructure on Earth and significantly disrupt the economy. An estimate by Lloyds of London estimates a worst-case scenario space weather event could cost up to $2.6 trillion and impact as many as 40 million people by causing outages at electric utilities, disrupting GPS and communication networks and forcing airlines to reroute air traffic.