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Monday, January 9, 2012

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 have continued 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. In November 2011, imaging from Landsat 5 was suspended due to technical difficulties.

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 or Landsat 8), with its instrument payload, was planned for launch in December 2012, but is now scheduled for January 15, 2013, at the earliest. NASA advanced the project to its final pre-launch development phase November 8, 2011, proceeding to final assembly and testing of the integrated satellite system and the launch of the satellite.

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.

Of particular concern early in the mission was the possibility that the new satellite might 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. 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 scheduled launch date.

With LDCM 1 proceeding to launch, interest is shifting to follow-up missions. For FY2012 the Administration proposed creating a new National Land Imaging program in USGS, with a contemplated launch of Landsat 9 in 2018. The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2012 (H.R. 2055) did not agree with the move, noting in the conference report that the move would “transfer budgetary authority for the launch of Landsat satellites 9 and 10 from” NASA to USGS. The conferees suggested that the coming year be used by “all interested parties to re-examine how to proceed with future Landsat missions.”

Date of Report: December 2
8, 2011
Number of Pages:
Order Number: R405
Price: $29.95

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