USGS takes over Landsat ops

The U.S. Geological Survey has taken over operations of the Landsat 7 imaging satellite from NASA, consolidating a program that provides researchers with detailed pictures of Earth and other data.

Landsat 7 operations will continue to be performed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland as well as at USGS' Earth Resources Observation Systems Data Center near Sioux Falls, S.D.

USGS' takeover was a scheduled part of the Landsat program. Landsat 7 was launched in April 1999 and had been operated by NASA since then. NASA will share its expertise in managing the satellite with USGS' staff, according to USGS.

"Adding this new component to our original mission of collecting, archiving and distributing Landsat data allows us to fulfill our original goal of completely managing Landsat operations and ensuring the availability of data," R.J. Thompson, USGS Landsat program manager, said in a press release.

Operating the satellite involves contacting it in real time more than a dozen times a day for "housekeeping activities," according to USGS. Operators also uplink commands that control it 36 to 48 hours into the future. USGS staff will also provide performance assessment and preventive maintenance.

Landsat 7, at an elevation of about 438 miles, orbits the Earth every 99 minutes, enabling it to complete 14 orbits a day, according to USGS. It provides coverage of the entire planet every 16 days and sends data to stations around the world.

Landsat 7 has provided more than 200,000 images of the Earth to the EROS Data Center, which is responsible for collecting, archiving and distributing Landsat data.

With resolution up to 15 meters, Landsat 7 provides far more detailed pictures than previous Landsat satellites and builds upon their data, providing a long-term record of the Earth's surface.

Landsat 7 supports NASA's study of changes in the global environment and USGS' Gateway to the Earth program, which makes the agency's earth and natural science information available over the Internet. Government, educators and industry use its data for applications areas including forestry, agriculture, geology, oceanography and mapping.

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