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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Landsat and the Data Continuity Mission

Carl E. Behrens
Specialist in Energy Policy

The U.S. Landsat Mission has collected remotely sensed imagery of the Earth's surface for more than 35 years. At present two satellites—Landsat-5, launched in 1984, and Landsat-7, launched in 1999—are in orbit and continuing to supply images and data for the many users of the information, but they are operating beyond their designed life and may fail at any time.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) jointly operate Landsat. The two agencies are developing a follow-on initiative known as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM). The LDCM spacecraft (LDCM-1), with its instrument payload, is currently planned for launch in December 2012. NASA completed the Critical Design Review of the LDCM on June 1, 2010, allowing the project to proceed with fullscale fabrication, assembly, integration, and test of the mission elements.

Landsat has been used in a wide variety of applications, including climate research, natural resources management, commercial and municipal land development, public safety, homeland security and natural disaster management. Despite its wide use, efforts in the past to commercialize Landsat operations have not been successful. Most of the users of the data are other government agencies. For that reason, funding a replacement for the failing Landsat orbiters has been a federal responsibility. A number of factors have made it difficult for Congress to assure that the project successfully meets the goal of bridging the impending Landsat data gap.

Of particular concern has been the possibility that the new satellite may not include the capability of receiving data in the thermal infrared spectrum, a capability that is now in Landsat 5 and 7 and which some users have found particularly useful. Funding for a Thermal Infrared Sensing Instrument (TIRS) was uncertain and progress on the instrument delayed during the early years of the mission. However, NASA's FY2009 appropriation included $10 million specifically for TIRS. NASA announced in its FY2011 budget request that TIRS would be developed in time to meet the December 2012 launch date, while noting that because of its late start it required an "aggressive development schedule." 

Date of Report: June 7, 2010
Number of Pages: 10
Order Number: R40594
Price: $29.95

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