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Users of space weather forecasts and warnings issued by NOAA’s Space Environment Center in Boulder can expect longer lead times and greater accuracy in anticipating solar storms and their impacts on Earth if recommendations from a new federal review of the National Space Weather Program are implemented. Space weather forecasts and warnings are issued by NOAA’s Space Environment Center in Boulder, Co.
The Office of the Federal Coordinator of Meteorological Services and Supporting Research sponsored the recently published review of the National Space Weather Program, which was conducted by an outside team of space weather experts. According to the independent review, the National Space Weather Program must be updated, strengthened and better funded to meet even minimal requirements for protecting the U.S. economy, government and national security from solar disturbances in Earth’s space environment.
NOAA is one of National Space Weather Program’s seven member agencies and the lead for coordinating space weather operations and services worldwide. NOAA’s Space Environment Center dffdqmonitors and predicts solar activity and impacts within Earth’s space environment. It also issues official space weather forecasts, warnings, alerts and data for civilian users. The SEC works closely with NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center, also located in Boulder and is one of the world’s primary resources for solar-terrestrial data.
“As our basic commercial infrastructure becomes more reliant on electronic equipment, wireless communications and satellite services, our national economy is more vulnerable to space weather,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “NOAA’s Space Environment Center is the first line of defense against damage to critical equipment. We have been given a clear road map by the National Space Weather Program Assessment Committee for how to move the program into the next stages of preparedness.”
The panel drew up a total of 23 recommendations for improvements. Among them were using cost-effective micro-satellites to provide long-term, continuous observations for operational forecasts; placing a “space-knowledgeable” staff member in the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate policy and implement new technologies; and restoring resources to NOAA for competitive, peer-reviewed funding for research.
“The most significant impact to space weather operations would be the loss of ACE monitoring capabilities,” the report stated. NOAA is already evaluating possible replacements for NASA’s aging ACE (Advanced Composition Explorer), cited by the panel as the key provider of advanced-warning data for NOAA forecasts. A million miles from Earth, ACE provides the only consistent measurements of the solar wind, a supersonic stream of hot magnetized plasma continuously emitted by the Sun, as it speeds by on its way to Earth.
NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite, now in orbit and ready to replace an earlier GOES when needed, carries new instruments for measuring solar X-rays and extreme ultraviolet radiation. Traveling through space at the speed of light, x-rays arrive in Earth’s atmosphere eight minutes after the start of a solar storm. At 90 miles up, they disrupt high-frequency communications critical for airline and military operations.
Space weather disruptions to government satellites alone are estimated at $100 million a year. One study found solar-caused geomagnetic storms from June 2000 through December 2001 raised the price of electricity $500 million. Diverting commercial flights to avoid radiation exposure and communications problems can cost an airline $100,000 per flight. Radio communications blackouts during wartime or poor timing of an astronaut’s space walk can cost lives as well as dollars.
The Federal and Interdepartmental Committees for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research directed the OFCM to assess National Space Weather Program’s progress in meeting its five stated goals of observations, research, modeling, transition of research to operations, and education and outreach, and then take action, through the OFCM’s interagency infrastructure, to move the National Space Weather Program forward into the next decade.
In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. Starting with the establishment of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.
The agency is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners and more than 60 countries to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes.
Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology: http://www.ofcm.gov
National Space Weather Program: http://www.nswp.gov