Energy & Environment

Enhancing America’s Preparedness for Space Weather Events

3 minute read

President Donald J. Trump has taken decisive action to reinvigorate American space leadership and return our explorers to the Moon and beyond. With a renewed focus on space policy, the Administration is also enhancing America’s preparedness for space weather events, like solar storms and flares. Throughout history, we’ve seen the dangerous impact these storms can have on Earth.

In 1859, the largest solar storm on record created a dangerously powerful electromagnetic pulse event, or EMP, that short-circuited telegraph wires and started fires. In 1989, the Earth again experienced a major space weather event, resulting in a nine-hour power outage in Quebec and causing damage to power grid components in the United States. More recently, in Sweden, space weather events in 2003 and 2015 resulted in electric power blackouts, rerouting of commercial flights, and closure of Swedish airspace for more than an hour.

That’s why the Trump Administration released a new National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan to better prepare our Nation’s critical infrastructure and security for the next space weather event.

This Plan will improve our Nation’s preparedness through targeted actions that support three main objectives:

  • Enhancing the Protection of National Security, Homeland Security, and Commercial Assets and Operations. In order to protect against space weather events, we must first understand how these events might affect critical infrastructure and national security assets. This understanding can inform the development and deployment of technologies and other approaches to limit the consequences of these events. Activities to increase the resilience of homeland and national security critical assets and systems are key to protecting the Nation from the most potentially devastating effects of space weather.
  • Developing and Disseminating Accurate and Timely Space Weather Characterization and Forecasts. Improving the ability to forecast and characterize space weather events is another important way of enabling an effective response. Forecasting includes the ability to provide advanced warning of impending events, and characterization means describing the event’s location, intensity, and other key characteristics. It is essential that those who collect and produce this information are prepared to convey it in ways that allow owners and operators of critical infrastructure and national security assets to understand its meaning and take appropriate action. Timely and accurate characterization and forecasting of space weather events will help enhance the security and resilience of critical infrastructure and improve our ability to protect national security assets.
  • Establishing Procedures for Responding to and Recovering from Space Weather Events. Much like the response plans for hurricanes or tornados, establishing, exercising, and improving operational space weather plans and procedures will help to mitigate the worst effects and save lives.

Thanks to coordination across the Federal Government, academia, the private sector, and international partners, the United States has made significant progress in predicting and preparing for space weather events. The Administration’s new plan builds upon these efforts and reflects the whole of government commitment to enhancing our Nation’s resiliency. In particular, earlier this week the President signed an Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses, including those created by space weather.

The National Space Weather Strategy and Action Plan provides a collaborative and coordinated roadmap for ensuring a space weather-ready Nation. Implementing this plan, in concert with the new Executive Order on EMP, will help the United States to better prepare for, predict, and deal with space weather hazards, and in so doing will contribute to America’s overall resilience and leadership in space.