Solar flare protons and energetic electrons affect satellites, avionics and Earth's magnetic field. Credit: NASA

Article was corrected Jan. 14 at 10:30 am. Rep. Frank Lucas’ amendment says NOAA may establish a pilot program to award contracts to commercial space weather companies. It does not direct NOAA to establish such a program.

SAN FRANCISCO – The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology approved legislation to coordinate federal government space weather research, forecasting and operations with input from academia, commercial firms and groups affected by space weather.

The legislation, Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) Act, was introduced in November by Democrat Ed Perlmutter of Colorado and Republican Mo Brooks of Alabama. Similar legislation, the Space Weather Research and Forecasting Act, was approved in April by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Congressional committees have discussed and debated space weather legislation for four years but have “never been able to come to an agreement on language that can pass both the House and the Senate,” Perlmutter said during the Jan. 9 House markup of H.R. 5260. “Thankfully today, I think we are going to take the first step toward ending that streak and finally passing this bill into law.”

PROSWIFT calls for the National Science and Technology Council to establish an interagency working group on space weather that includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA, the National Science Foundation, Defense Department and Interior Department. It directs members of the interagency working group to expand collaboration with the international community, academia and the commercial space weather sector.

PROSWIFT also tasks NOAA with establishing a space weather advisory group with members representing academia, the commercial space weather sector and space weather data customers.

During the House markup, Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the House Science Committee, succeeded in amending the legislation. Lucas’ amendment says NOAA may establish a pilot program to award contracts to commercial space weather companies. To win contracts, the firms will have to meet NOAA “standards and specifications” for weather data obtained by ground-based, airborne, maritime and space-based instruments.

“This program is a merely a pilot and it expires after four years so we would not permanently authorize a program with this amendment,” Lucas said.

Organizations involved in space weather activities expressed their support for the legislation.

“H.R. 5260 lays out a clear road map for the space weather enterprise which consists of the public, private and academic sectors, and in so doing will enable better research to operations transitions that will benefit all communities that rely on technology both on the ground and in space that can be affected by these sun-driven events,” Antonio J. Busalacchi, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research president, said in a Jan. 8 letter to Perlmutter.

Similarly, Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, wrote Perlmutter, “We believe the PROSWIFT Act will provide a collaborative framework for the federal government and its agencies to work together alongside academic, international and commercial space communities to advance this critical undertaking.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...