On April 20, 2018, the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), through the Department of Commerce, announced the intent to update the 2015 National Space Weather Strategy (hereafter Strategy).
Space weather events from the Sun, in the form of solar flares, solar energetic particles, and coronal mass ejections, can negatively affect technology systems in space and on Earth. These events can endanger the lives of humans in space, and disrupt or damage critical infrastructure systems and technologies, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), satellite operations and communication, aviation, and the electric power grid.
For example, a series of space weather events in October 2003 had wide ranging effects, including an electricity blackout in Sweden, rerouting of high-latitude commercial flights, and disruption in satellite operations, including GPS. Despite these effects, the 2003 space weather events are not usually considered to be among the most extreme [Jonas et al., 2018]. Many of the actual and potential impacts of such events have been explored in research published in AGU’s Space Weather journal, and is of global interest, as highlighted by recent United Nations activities.
The 2015 Strategy identified six goals and the associated Action Plan identified 99 interagency activities intended to reduce the United States’ vulnerability to space weather events. Since the release of the Strategy, awareness of space weather as a global hazard has increased, with several countries, including the United States and United Kingdom, assessing the potential economic consequences of space weather events and developing actions to address the associated hazards.
The Strategy states that it will be updated every three years, to account for the constant evolution of technology systems and growing economic and societal dependence on interconnected systems (such as the Internet of Things), along with an evolving understanding of space weather and its effects. This commitment to regularly update the Strategy reflects the need for long-term engagement to identify and implement activities to build and sustain resilience.
The plan for the first update to the Strategy was announced at the 2018 Space Weather Workshop, by Steve Clarke, Senior Policy Analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. As part of this activity, the Department of Commerce, on behalf of the NSTC, published a request for information in the Federal Register.
The RFI “seeks input from the public on ways to improve government coordination and on long-term guidance for Federal programs and activities to enhance national preparedness to space weather events.” The RFI highlights potential new focuses for the Strategy, including space weather implications for national security, American innovation, and enhanced safety and viability of space activities, as well as concerns surrounding electromagnetic pulse events. Input via the Federal Register will be accepted through 17 May, 2018. We encourage readers of Space Weather and others with interest in this field to contribute to this public consultation.
—Seth Jonas, Science and Technology Policy Institute, Institute for Defense Analyses; email: [email protected]; and William Murtagh, Space Weather Prediction Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration