Today, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO-7) introduced the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act. This bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (OK-1) and Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX-30), is the House companion to S. 141 introduced by Senators Gary Peters, Cory Gardner, Cory Booker, and Roger Wicker which passed the Senate earlier this year.
“Space Weather events can cause great damage to our infrastructure and our economy,” said Rep. Ed Perlmutter. “Colorado’s research community and federal laboratories stand ready to enhance our understanding of space weather events and improve our forecasting abilities. This legislation will better coordinate federal research investments with our operational forecasters who provide warnings to impacted industries and ensure our academic, international, and commercial partners are working hand in hand to improve space weather forecasting.”
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 which 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). Additionally, the legislation enhances the relationships between federal agencies, academic researchers and the commercial industry.
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 which may be impacted by space weather.
It’s important to understand and track the Sun’s constantly changing conditions. Its 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 our infrastructure and could significantly disrupt the economy. 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.