NASA successfully launched its new Landsat satellite on Monday, ensuring that the U.S. government will continue its ability to keep a close eye on environmental change from space, from receding glaciers, deforestation and coastal erosion to natural disasters.
We noted the importance of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission in our August 2011 policy brief, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security:
The health of the Landsat program, which provides information on topics from land use change to urbanization, is a top concern. One of the two remaining Landsat satellites is past its expected lifespan, and the other has declining capabilities. One replacement satellite, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, has a planned launch date in 2012. The achievement of this mission and its successors is necessary to ensure that one of the most accomplished U.S. satellite programs, spanning nearly four decades, is not lost.
A report in The San Francisco Gate explained the satellite’s important functions and role in generating remote sensing data:
The newest Landsat is equipped with sensors that are more powerful than its predecessors. Once it reaches 440 miles above Earth, the satellite will zip around the planet 14 times a day, snapping hundreds of pictures that will be beamed back to ground stations in South Dakota, Alaska and Norway.
After a three-month checkout period, day-to-day operations will be turned over to the U.S. Geological Survey, which intends to make images and data free on the Internet as in previous Landsat missions. NASA developed the spacecraft and its two instruments.
Learn more about the Landsat Data Continuity Mission at NASA.gov.