by Douglas Messier
On Sept. 2, 1859, a powerful solar storm of highly charged particles overwhelmed the Earth’s protective magnetic field, shorting out telegraph wires and igniting fires across the United States and Europe.
Aware of the havoc that a similar event could cause on a planet increasingly dependent on satellites and electronics, the U.S. government is looking to better predict, protect against and recover from future solar storms.
The Space Weather Act introduced in the Senate would establish an inter-agency working group consisting of representatives of the following agencies: NASA, NOAA, Defense, Interior, Transportation (including FAA), State, Energy, Homeland Security and the National Science Foundation. The group would help develop integrated space weather strategies across the government.
A 15-member space weather advisory group would also be established that would consist of five members apiece from the commercial sector, academic community and non-governmental space weather end user community.
The measure directs White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier to lead these groups in developing “an integrated strategy for solar, solar wind, and geospace observations beyond the lifetime of current assets that considers the provision of solar, solar wind, and geospace measurements and other space weather measurements (A) essential to space weather forecasting; and (B) important for scientific purposes,” the bill stated.
Droegemeier consider the use of small satellites, hosted payloads, commercial spacecraft, international partnerships and prizes when developing the integrated observation strategy. He is also instructed leverage and build upon space weather research performed by the National Science and Technology Council.
NASA would work with other agencies, the European Space Agency and international partners to maintain operations of the maintain operations of the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory’s Large Angle and Spectrometric Coronagraph “for as long as the satellite continues to deliver quality observations.”
NOAA would be tasked with working with NASA and DOD to secure secondary capability to image near real-time coronal mass ejections from the sun. NOAA would also work with the Defense Department to develop an integrated strategy for follow-on space-based observations.
The FAA would be tasked with assessing the danger of space weather to civil aviation. The effort would include evaluating “options for incorporating space weather into operational training for pilots, cabin crew, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, meteorologists, and engineers,” the bill stated.
The National Security Council would lead an inter-agency effort to assess the risk to security assets and develop strategies to protect them. Homeland Security would lead a similar effort to examine critical infrastructure.
Homeland Security would be prohibited from promulgating regulations to protect critical infrastructure from the effects of space weather events under this bill.