Peters and Gardner Try Again on Space Weather Legislation – UPDATED

Peters and Gardner Try Again on Space Weather Legislation – UPDATED

Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) have reintroduced their Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act.  The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will mark it up on Wednesday.  This is the third try for the legislation, which passed the Senate in the 115th Congress, but not the House.  Its purpose is to clarify agency roles and responsibilities. [UPDATE: The bill was approved by the committee without amendment on April 3, 2019.]

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan)

In a press release, Peters pointed out the perils posed by space weather — emissions from the Sun that can damage satellites and ground-based infrastructure like the electric grid.  “A worst-case scenario space weather event could cripple vital infrastructure and threaten our national security — and the federal government must be ready in the event of a catastrophe.”

NOAA operates a Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado that alerts the aviation, radio communications, electric power, satellite, and emergency management communities when a severe space weather event is about to occur so officials can take precautions.

Those warnings are based in part on data from satellites, including three spacecraft positioned at the L1 Sun-Earth Lagrange point that detect Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) or the solar wind.  Europe’s Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is the only one that has a coronagraph that blocks the light from the Sun, enabling it to image the Sun’s corona for CMEs.  NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) and the NOAA-NASA-Air Force Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) detect solar wind — the flow of particles from the Sun.  SOHO and ACE are still operational, but quite old.  SOHO was launched in 1995 and ACE in 1997.  DSCOVR was launched in 2015.  NOAA has been working on a Space Weather Follow-On program.  Its current plan is to place a “compact coronagraph” (CCOR) on one of its geostationary weather satellites (GOES-U) and another on a NASA spacecraft, the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), that will be sent to L1.

NASA launches research satellites to learn more about the Sun and its interaction with Earth and other agencies have responsibilities for studying, forecasting, or dealing with the effects of space weather.  The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy just released an updated National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan that provides a framework for federal coordination of these efforts last week.

The legislation would codify the roles and responsibilities of those agencies, including NASA, NOAA, the National Science Foundation, DOD, and the Federal Aviation Administration. It directs NOAA to develop plans to replace SOHO and the Department of Homeland Security to use space weather research and information to identify critical infrastructure that could be disrupted by space weather.

The Peters press release did not include the text of the new bill, S. 881, but referenced the fact that he and Gardner “previously introduced the bill in the 115th Congress,” suggesting the text may be the same as last time.  He had also introduced the bill in the 114th Congress.

In the 115th Congress, it passed the Senate unanimously on May 2, 2017.

A companion House bill was introduced by Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on the topic on April 26, 2018.  On July 25, 2018, it marked up the Peters bill, however, and made a number of changes to it that were offered by Perlmutter and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL).  The bill had been added to the markup agenda at the last minute.  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), who was the Ranking Member at the time and now is the chairwoman, strongly objected to its consideration because insufficient notice was provided.  She brought up Perlmutter’s original bill as an amendment, but it was defeated, with Perlmutter voting against his own legislation.  He voted in favor of the new version instead and the committee adopted the amended version.  That meant if the bill passed the House, it would have to go back to the Senate for reconsideration.  No further action was taken.

Peters said in his press release that Perlmutter and Brooks would be introducing companion legislation to S. 881, so perhaps they have reached a compromise.

The Senate committee markup is on Wednesday morning.




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