Continuing the Landsat Mission: New Satellite Launches to Space

by Nancy Atkinson on February 11, 2013

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An  Atlas-V rocket with the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) spacecraft onboard is seen as it launches on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Credit: NASA

An Atlas-V rocket with the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) spacecraft onboard is seen as it launches on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Credit: NASA

NASA launched a successor to the long-time Landsat satellite Earth-observing program today, sending the Landsat Data Continuity Mission satellite to orbit via an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 1:02 EST (10:02 PST, 18:02 UTC). The new LDCM carries two new instruments, the Operational Land Imager and the Thermal Infrared Sensor, which will collect data that are compatible with data from previous Landsat mission, 5 and 7, and improve upon it with advanced instrument designs that are more sensitive to changes to the land surface, NASA said. This is the eighth Landsat satellite, and after extensive on-orbit testing and certified for its mission, it will be renamed Landsat 8.

See the launch video, below:

LDCM will continue the Landsat program’s 40-year data record of monitoring Earth from space, making critical observations to help with energy and water management, forest monitoring, human and environmental health, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture.

The new satellite is about the size of a large SUV, weighing 2,780 kg (6,133-pounds). The two instruments will monitor Earth’s surface in visible and multiple infrared wavelengths, resolving large-scale surface features and collecting some 400 images per day. The satellite is equipped with a 3.14-terabyte solid-state recorder to store data between downlink sessions.

“This will be the best Landsat satellite launched to date,” said Jim Irons, LDCM project scientist at Goddard Spaceflight Center, “the best Landsat satellite ever in terms of the quality and quantity of the data collected by the LDCM sensors.”

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket with the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) spacecraft onboard is seen as it launches on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Credit: NASA

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket with the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) spacecraft onboard is seen as it launches on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Credit: NASA

Irons said the Landsat program is a critical and extremely valuable national asset.

“Since the launch of Landsat 1, we have seen — and we have caused — dramatic changes to the global land surface that continue today at rates unprecedented in human history,” he said. “These changes are due to an increasing population, advancing technologies and climate change. LDCM will extend and improve upon the Landsat record of landscape change. The resulting observations and information will be critical to managing increasing demands on land resources and preparing for inevitable changes to the global land surface.”

Recently, Landsat 5 successfully set the new Guinness World Records title for ‘Longest-operating Earth observation satellite.’ It was launched on March 1, 1984, and outlived its three-year design life. It delivered high-quality, global data of Earth’s land surface for 28 years and 10 months, completing over 150,000 orbits and sending back more than 2.5 million images of Earth’s surface. On Dec. 21, 2012 the USGS announced Landsat 5 would be decommissioned in the coming months after the failure of a redundant gyroscope. The satellite carries three gyroscopes for attitude control and needs two to maintain control.

The Landsat Program is managed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Read more about the Landsat Program here.

This timeline shows the continuing Landsat Program:

Timeline showing lifespans of the Landsat satellites. Credit: NASA

Timeline showing lifespans of the Landsat satellites. Credit: NASA

This video shows the separation of the spacecraft as it prepares to go into orbit:

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Rob Sparks February 11, 2013 at 9:15 PM

On of my early childhood memories is going to visit the EROS Data Center just outside Sioux Falls, South Dakota with my parents shortly after it opened (it might have been their first big open house since I remember it being VERY crowded!) EROS is where all the LANDSAT data goes. My parents always bought images from them and we always had some framed around the house while I was growing up. We visited EROS every few years while I was growing up so I have a fondness for the LANDSAT program.

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