US Prepares To Defend Itself Against Space Weather
As if it didn’t already have enough to worry about, the United States is dealing with a threat from an unusual source – the sun.
The problem of ‘space weather’ sounds almost made up, but it’s a real threat, and a newly signed law aims to do something about it.
Space weather is caused by activity on the surface of the sun, which frequently emits radiation causing solar flares, geomagnetic storms, and other bursts of particular and radioactive matter. While plenty of these events occur without ever impacting the Earth, these kinds of storms can actually cause real damage.
As the world becomes more and more reliant on satellite technology, there’s a risk that flares and storms could damage satellites in orbit, potentially knocking out communications and GPS systems down here on Earth. Scientists also worry that radiation from solar flares could pose a health risk to astronauts and people flying at high altitudes.
It’s not something we hear that much about, but the National Weather Service has been monitoring space weather for a while now, and even provides space weather forecasts from it’s Space Weather Predication Center in Boulder, Colorado. Space Weather forecasting is especially important in the aviation industry, with solar activity in the past having caused flights to be diverted after radio blackouts took air traffic control towers offline.
Now, a new bipartisan effort in Congress has resulted in the PROSWIFT Act, which orders federal agencies including NASA and the Defense Department to work with private companies to develop better systems to study space weather and protect American infrastructure from it’s effects.
The PROSWIFT Act, which was signed into law by President Trump last week, is the culmination of a five year push for an improved strategy when it comes to space weather.
Senator Gary Peters, one of the lead sponsors of the Act, said in a statement:
While we cannot predict when they will happen, space weather events pose a unique and significant challenge to our national security, economy and technological infrastructure.
We simply cannot afford to be caught flat-footed.
Experts reportedly believe there is a 10% chance of a catastrophic space weather event occurring in the next 10 years. Lloyds of London estimate that such an event could cost up to $2.6 trillion.
Don’t worry though, NASA is already on the case. The space agency plans to send two new missions to space in the coming years to analyse space weather, Engadget reports, and has allotted $250 million of funding for the projects.
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