Landsat 9 Will Launch in 2020

The groundbreaking Landsat partnership between NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is set to continue into the future as a new bill ensures ongoing funding for the program. This funding will treat the program as an ongoing entity, rather then the previous model of treating each satellite as a one-off launch. This will ensure continuity of data in the project that has been imaging the Earth’s surface for close to 50 years. This represents a strategic shift to a sustainable land imaging system, with the budget proposal including multi-decadal multi-mission funding to ensure integrity of the program.

Benefits of Landsat Imagery

The project has proved a boon to many industries and fields of research. Landsat has amassed a catalog of multi-spectral moderate resolution imagery of the world’s landmasses over half a century, which can be used to track many terrestrial processes. Sarah Ryker, USGS deputy associate director for climate and land use elaborated, “The White House found that GPS, Weather, and Landsat are the three most critical Earth-orbiting assets for civil applications, as they are used in a wide range of sectors and fields of research. Landsat 9 and the long-term commitment to the program is great for natural resource and science and data-driven industries.”

The Landsat Program Continues

The budget proposal calls on NASA and the USGS to immediately begin development of two satellites to take over from Landsat 8 at the end of its mission. John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for science at NASA headquarters explains “Moving out on Landsat 9 is a high priority for NASA and USGS as part of a sustainable land imaging program that will serve the nation into the future as the current Landsat program has done for decades. Continuing the critical observations made by the Landsat satellites is important now and their value will only grow in the future, given the long term environmental changes we are seeing on planet Earth.”

This video provides a quick overview of the planned continuation of the Landsat imagery program:

The first of these will launch in 2019 in a ‘stop-gap’ mission to take over from a faulty thermal infra-red sensor on Landsat 8. This craft will be a polar-orbiting ‘free flyer’ that will fly in formation with Landsat 8 to bridge the gap in thermal imaging.

The second will be the Landsat 9 satellite, that will essentially replicate the functions of Landsat 8, with a more resilient thermal infra-red sensor that is designed to last for five years, the same lifespan as the satellite. The thermal infra-red sensor on Landsat 8 was only designed to last for three years, while the satellite’s lifespan was 5. This has led to the capability gap needing to be bridged with a free-flying replacement satellite.

Artistic concept of Landsat 9. Source: NASA.

Artistic concept of Landsat 9. Source: NASA.

Landsat 9 project scientist Jeffrey Mosek summarizes the launch “The 2023 launch will propel the program past 50 years of collecting global land cover data. The hallmark of Landsat- the longer the satellites view Earth, the more phenomena you observe and understand; changes in irrigation, conversion of forest to pasture, activities where human pressures or natural environmental pressures are causing shifts in land use over decades.” (The anticipated launch date has since been updated to 2020.  See the info page for Landsat 9)

Congress has asked NASA to design, build, and launch Landsat 9 for less then $650 million, significantly less then the $855 million price tag for Landsat 8. The replication of many systems and sensors across the two launches should ensure redundancy of effort and a less expensive build. NASA has also been authorized to study upgraded and miniaturized systems that could be included in Landsat 10 in 2030, with a design decision due in 2019.

The continuation of the Landsat program will enable NASA to continue it’s mission to help the world observe, understand, and manage natural systems by archiving long-term records of the Earth’s surface.



Poster from NASA.

Landsat 9 poster from NASA.


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