by Douglas Messier
President Donald Trump has signed a bill to reorganize and strengthen the nation’s monitoring of and response to space weather, albeit with some reservations about its impact on foreign policy and national security.
The Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow Act (PROSwift) assigns roles to federal departments and establishes an interagency working group to coordinate their activities.
Coronal mass ejections from the sun can disrupt satellites, ground communications, electrical grids, aviation, navigation and other critical infrastructure. A massive geomagnetic storm shorted out telegram systems in 1859 in what is known as the Carrington Event. A similar event today could be devastating to the global economy.
PROSwift assigns the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) with the task of developing and implementing a coordinated federal effort to observe, predict and respond to space weather events.
OSTP will work with agencies to develop an integrated strategy for sustaining and expanding Earth- and space-based measurements essential for space weather research, modeling and forecasting.
PROSwift establishes an interagency space weather working group with representatives from:
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Department of Defense (DoD)
- National Science Foundation (NSF)
- Department of the Interior
- Any other agencies deemed necessary.
NOAA will create a 15-member space weather advisory group composed of five representatives apiece from academia, commercial space weather sector, and the non-governmental end user community.
“The advisory group shall conduct a comprehensive survey of the needs of users of space weather products to identify the space weather research, observations, forecasting, prediction, and modeling advances required to improve space weather products,” the bill said.
PROSwift assigns specific roles to the following federal agencies:
NOAA: provide operational space weather monitoring, forecasting, and long-term data archiving and access for civil applications; maintain ground-based and space-based assets needed for space weather forecasting, prediction, and warnings; conduct research to support operational responsibilities; and develop requirements for space weather forecasting technologies and science.
NASA: conduct basic research into space weather and the Sun-Earth system; perform space-based observations and modeling; and develop new space-based technologies and missions.
DOD: conduct operational space weather research, monitoring and forecasting for defense needs.
FAA: provide operational requirements for space weather services in support of aviation; coordinate with the International Civil Aviation Organization; and integrate space weather data and products into the Next Generation Air Transportation System.
NSF: provide increased understanding of the Sun-Earth system through ground-based measurements, technologies and modeling.
Department of the Interior: collect, distribute, and archive operational ground-based magnetometer data; work with the international community to improve global geophysical monitoring; and develop crustal conductivity models to assess and mitigate risks from space weather-induced electric ground currents.
The bill also gives NOAA the authority to launch a pilot space weather program.
PROSwift directs federal agencies to “increase engagement and cooperation with the international community, academic community, and commercial space weather sector on the observational infrastructure, data, and scientific research necessary to advance the monitoring, forecasting, and prediction of, preparation for, and protection from, space weather phenomena.”
In a signing statement explaining how the administration would interpret and carry out the law, Trump said provisions relating to international cooperation could limit foreign policy actions.
“I note, however, that certain provisions of the Act, while generally unobjectionable as a matter of policy, could limit my discretion under Article II of the Constitution to conduct the Nation’s foreign affairs. These include applicable parts of section 2(a) and 51 U.S.C. 60601(c)(3) and 60603(c), as added by section 2(b). My Administration will treat these limitations as advisory and non-binding,” the statement said.
PROSwift also directs NOAA to work with NASA, DOD, other federal agencies and international partners to secure reliable backup capability for the near real-time imagery and measurement of coronal mass ejections, solar wind and other relevant observations.
Trump’s signing statement also mentioned the bill’s lack of specific provisions to deal with national security assets and critical infrastructure that could be devastated by a solar weather.
“Without ensuring the resilience of these assets, our Nation will remain vulnerable to the effects of space weather, regardless of how accurate forecasting becomes,” the statement said. “I look forward to working with the Congress to improve the resilience of national security assets and critical infrastructure to space weather.”
Senate and House members haggled for years over space weather legislation. One of the key sticking points involved provisions concerning the military that were not included in the compromise PROSwift bill.