House Science Committee Passes Revised Space Weather Bill

Artist illustration of events on the sun changing the conditions in Near-Earth space. A new study finds daily U.S. economic cost from solar storm-induced electricity blackouts could be in the tens of billions of dollars. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (House Science Committee PR) – The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee approved legislation today to better protect lives, property, and infrastructure from the adverse effects of space weather.

S. 141, the Space Weather Coordination Act as passed by the Science Committee, addresses the complex challenges posed by space weather and space weather events. This bill, as amended by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), recognizes the real threat posed by space weather by creating a comprehensive national coordinating framework and requiring the establishment and maintenance of a baseline capability for space weather observation and forecasting.

It codifies, for the first time, the necessary architecture to leverage the capabilities and expertise of the government, commercial sector, academia, and the international community to advance space weather observation and forecasting and substantively address the challenges posed by space weather.

While currently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the U.S. Air Force monitor space weather, issue forecasts, and create other products to inform the public, space weather science, as a discipline, remains in its early stages.

To protect our modern technological infrastructure from significant risk, marked improvement in understanding what causes space weather and the prediction and forecasting of events are needed. This bill moves the nation toward accomplishing that while also opening more opportunities for non-governmental stakeholders to be active partners.

The creation of the pilot program for the purchase of quality, value-adding space weather data from the commercial sector is one such example. The pilot program—and the agility of this bill’s approach generally—ensures that innovative, cost-effective strategies can be pursued, and that our burgeoning commercial space industry will be able to help address the challenges posed by space weather.

Similarly, in tasking the National Space Council with overseeing the national coordinating framework, this bill takes an approach that is consistent with the current Administration’s space strategy.

Chairman Lamar Smith:

“Space weather, which is the result of interactions between the sun and the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, can affect the modern technology we rely upon daily. The electric grid, oil pipelines, passengers on commercial airlines, and satellites that provide telecommunications and GPS services can all be impacted by space weather. It is critical that we can better forecast and respond to space weather events. This legislation allows us to address the challenges of space weather while also providing opportunities for new partnerships and technologies. Improving our knowledge of space weather will enhance our national security and economic strength, and increase the resiliency of the national space enterprise as a whole. I thank Rep. Perlmutter, Rep. Brooks, and Sen. Peters for their hard work on this important piece of legislation.”

Rep. Perlmutter:

“Given the growing national importance and reliance on technology, it is critical we expand our scientific understanding of the interactions between the sun and Earth so we can improve forecasting and mitigate the effects of space weather events. This legislation will better coordinate federal research investments with our operational forecasters who provide warnings to impacted industries and ensure our academic and commercial partners are working hand in hand to improve space weather forecasting.”

Rep. Brooks:

“The topic of space weather is an important one. The potential consequences of a severe space weather event, principally catastrophic damage to America’s power grid caused by radiation from the Sun, could be far-reaching and disastrous. Having a formal observation and forecasting architecture in place, the kind the Perlmutter-Brooks amendment establishes, is vital to mitigating those consequences and protecting life and property both here on Earth and in space. The scientists and engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center in my district have been at the forefront of vital space weather research for many years. Under the Perlmutter-Brooks amendment, their research will not only continue, but they will be even better able to advance the nation’s space weather enterprise to where it needs to be.”

The full text of the bill is available here.