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With $2T in Damage Looming, Senate Passes Space Weather Act

May 4, 2017

NASA Image

Bill Calls for Protection of Critical Infrastructure, National Security Assets

On the first of September 1859 the Earth was hit by a massive solar flare. It was so strong that currents induced in telegraph wires set offices afire.  Later dubbed “the Carrington event,” if it were to happen today, the National Academy of Sciences estimates that the impact would be devastating – $2 trillion in damage and years of recovery.  According to some experts, there is a 12% chance of it happening again in the next 10 years, almost 50% in the next 50 years.

On Wednesday the Senate unanimously passed S.141, the “Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act.”  The majority of the bill addresses achieving greater coordination and cohesion between the many places in the federal government that deal with space weather. It also calls for additional solar imaging capability to allow better research, and hopefully better prediction of damaging solar events.

Of special interest to our readers, Section 4 of the bill directs the:

  • Secretary of Homeland Security to “support critical infrastructure providers in managing the risks and impacts associated with space weather,” and
  • National Security Council to “develop national security mechanisms to protection national security assets from space weather threats.

By our read it looks like a great bill and we hope it is enacted into law.

More importantly, we hope folks in the administration take it seriously and act on its provisions.  Unfortunately, that is not a given.

For example, nine years have come and gone since the US government announced it would protect GPS signals and PNT services from massive solar flares and other disruptions with a terrestrial eLoran system. Few reasonable people would argue that GPS doesn’t fit the category of “national security asset” or “critical infrastructure.” Yet, despite subsequent assurances, no action has been taken.

Let’s hope the government does decide to act soon and seriously to protect the nation from damaging solar activity and the wide variety of other threats to our GPS and PNT.

RNT Foundation thanks the bill sponsors in the Senate:

Sen Gary Peters (D-MI), Sen Cory Gardener (R-CO), Sen Roger Wicker (R-MS), Sen Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)