NASA’s latest Earth-observing satellite rocketed into space today continuing a program which began more than 40 years ago.
An Atlas V rocket carrying the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) spacecraft launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, California.
NASA officials called today’s launch “picture perfect.” The spacecraft is now on its own after a successful separation from the Centaur upper stage.
The LDCM is the eighth in a series of global observational spacecraft called Landsat, a collaborative effort between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
According to NASA, it will play a critical role in monitoring, understanding and managing the resources, such as food and water, needed to sustain human life.
After three months of testing in orbit, the satellite will become known as Landsat 8, and all operational control of the spacecraft will transfer to USGS.
All Landsat data and imaging will continue to be collected by USGS primary ground stations in South Dakota and Australia.
Orbiting Earth every 99 minutes, Landsat 8 will be able to image Earth every 16 days as it circles the globe in a near polar orbit. Two new sophisticated instruments, Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS), will allow Landsat 8 to provide image and data information that wasn’t possible with previous Landsat satellites.
The OLI will cover wide areas of the Earth’s surface, sending back data and high definition images to help observers distinguish between various surfaces; such as urban, agricultural and forested areas.
The TIRS will use new technology which applies quantum physics to measure land surface temperature in two thermal bands, helping observers differentiate the temperature of the Earth’s surface from that of the atmosphere.
The Landsat mission to study and monitor our planet’s land masses began with the launch of Landsat 1 in 1972.
Since then, Landsat 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 have all been put into service. Landsat satellites 1 through 4 were taken out of service from the late 1970s through the early 1990s.
Landsat 5 , launched in 1984, was recently taken out of service and Landsat 6 never made it into orbit after a fuel line exploded seven minutes after liftoff. Along with the just-launched Landsat 8, Landsat 7, which was sent into orbit in 1999, is the only remaining Landsat observing satellite still in service.
The imaging and data provided by the Landsat spacecraft have helped scientists better understand our planet’s climate, carbon cycle, ecosystems, water cycle, biogeochemistry and changes to Earth’s surface, as well as our understanding of visible effects human have made to land surfaces.
NASA and USGS say the information provided by Landsat over the last 40 years has helped improve human and biodiversity health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery, and agriculture, which in turn has helped develop the world economy.
NASA video overview of the LDCM Mission