Next-generation Earth satellite lifts off

NASA’s Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) made a textbook launch at 1:02 pm EST yesterday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The LDCM spacecraft separated from the Atlas V rocket 79 minutes after launch, and its first signal was received three minutes later at a ground station in Svalbard, Norway. The solar arrays deployed 86 minutes after launch, and the spacecraft is now generating power from them.

LDCM should reach its operational, sun-synchronous, polar orbit 438 miles above Earth within two months.

“Landsat is a centerpiece of NASA’s Earth Science program, and today’s successful launch will extend the longest continuous data record of Earth’s surface as seen from space,” says NASA administrator Charles Bolden.

“This data is a key tool for monitoring climate change and has led to the improvement of human and biodiversity health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture monitoring – all resulting in incalculable benefits to the U.S. and world economy.”

For the next three months, LDCM will go through a check-out phase, after which operational control will be transferred to NASA’s mission partner, the Department of the Interior’s US Geological Survey (USGS), and the satellite will be renamed Landsat 8.

Data will be archived and distributed free over the internet from the Earth Resources and Science (EROS) center in Sioux Falls, starting within 100 days of launch.

LDCM is the eighth in the Landsat series of satellites that have been continuously observing Earth’s land surfaces since 1972. It carries two instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS).

“LDCM is the best Landsat satellite ever built,” says LDCM project scientist Jim Irons.

“The technology will advance and improve the array of scientific investigations and resource management applications supported by Landsat images. I anticipate new knowledge and applications to emerge with an increasing demand for the data.”

OLI will carry on with the observations currently made by Landsat 7 in the visible, near infrared and shortwave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. It also will take measurements in two new bands, one to observe high-altitude cirrus clouds and another to observe atmospheric aerosols as well as water quality in lakes and shallow coastal waters.

Meanwhile, TIRS will collect data on heat emitted from Earth’s surface in two thermal bands – previousl Landsat satellites were restricted to one. These thermal band observations are becoming increasingly vital to monitoring water consumption, especially in the arid western United States, says NASA.