Gardner and Peters’ Bipartisan Bill to Predict and Mitigate Space Weather Signed Into Law

An image taken from the International Space Station shows orange swaths of airglow hovering in Earth’s atmosphere. NASA’s new Atmospheric Waves Experiment will observe this airglow from a perch on the space station to help scientists understand, and ultimately improve forecasts of, space weather changes in the upper atmosphere. (Credits: NASA)

Washington, D.C. (Cory Gardner/Gary Peters PR) – U.S. Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Gary Peters (D-MI) today applauded the signing into law of their bipartisan legislation to strengthen the nation’s ability to predict severe space weather events and mitigate their harmful impacts on Earth. A severe space weather event, such as a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, has the potential to seriously disrupt the electric power grid, communications networks including cellular phones and GPS, satellites, and aircraft operations.

“Space weather events stand to present significant economic and national security implications, with the potential to disrupt essential services, communications, and technologies we rely on every day. For years I have worked with Senator Peters on bipartisan space weather legislation, understanding the need to prioritize the research and development necessary to reduce the risk of these events and allow our nation to react and recover,” said Senator Gardner. “Today I’m proud to see our bipartisan bill signed into law to help bolster our country’s ability to predict and address these events.”

“With the Coronavirus pandemic forcing schools, small businesses and families to find innovative ways to stay connected, it has never been more important for our nation to protect against threats to our electric grid, telecommunications networks and even air travel,” said Senator Peters. “While we cannot predict when they will happen, space weather events pose a unique and significant challenge to our national security, economy and technological infrastructure. We simply cannot afford to be caught flat-footed, and I am pleased that this bipartisan bill has been signed into law.” 

“It is critical to better understand solar events and their impacts on Earth and our entire space environment. From our ground-based facilities to our space-based assets, these solar events can cause irreparable harm to our commercial interests and our national security. The PROSWIFT Act becoming law ensures that the U.S. will remain the world leader in space weather prediction and research by enhancing and fostering cooperation among government, academia and commercial partners. This will allow us to better predict and mitigate dangerous and inevitable solar events. Given our State’s robust space weather assets, Colorado is well-positioned to play a key role in these critical efforts,” said Dr. Daniel Baker, Director of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

We have now arrived at a pivotal moment in forecasting solar storms.” Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. “At a time when society is more dependent than ever on advanced e-based technologies, the PROSWIFT Act lays out a clear road map for bringing together expertise in government, the private sector, and academia to forecast these damaging events. By successfully enacting this legislation, this predictive capability will provide a critical safeguard for America’s economic competitiveness and national security, and for the business and school technologies that we have all come to rely upon.” 

The Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) 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, and determine what new research and technology is needed to improve the ability to forecast space weather events and mitigate potential damage. 

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, along with NASA and DOD to develop plans for a backup of aging Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, which after 25 years is nearing the end of its lifeSpace 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. The insurance industry has cited estimates of a catastrophic space weather event as high as 10 percent in the next 10 years. An estimate by Lloyds of London found that a worst-case scenario space weather event could cost up to $2.6 trillion.

Impacts include outages or blackouts of electric utilities, disrupting GPS and communication networks, and forcing airlines to reroute air traffic. The National Science and Technology Council at the White House issued a 2019 report that underscored the threat that space weather poses to civilian critical infrastructure, defense and intelligence systems, and military operations.

Both Gardner and Peters serve on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which oversees the activities of NASA and NOAA as well as the Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather. Gardner serves as the Subcommittee Chairman and Peters previously served as the Ranking Member. U.S. Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Mo Brooks (R-AL) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives last year.

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Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.