Landsat 5 still has a job to do

USGS extends aging satellite's Earth-observation mission

A demand for remote-sensing data from Landsat 5 will keep the Earth-observation satellite operational for at least several months longer than planned, officials at the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The spacecraft was to be decommissioned June 30, but because of several large orders for Landsat imagery from the Agriculture Department, NASA and other agencies, as well as universities and private users, Landsat 5 will continue to provide data.

Landsat 5, launched in 1984, has been in use well beyond its intended five-year design life, and its durability has provided an unexpected boon to land imagery users. Working in tandem with Landsat 7, launched in 1999, the satellites can cover the entire Earth in eight days.

Ray Byrnes, USGS liaison for satellite programs, said dozens of users expressed concern about shutting down Landsat 5. USDA officials, who use Landsat data to monitor crop growth worldwide, were particularly concerned about losing the eight-day coverage. The agency led the effort to buy data, which will almost provide the $750,000 needed to keep Landsat 5 flying for the rest of fiscal 2001.

"It's a prepayment," Byrnes said. "We're using the funding upfront to keep things going."

In May, USGS officials announced that Landsat 5 would be decommissioned because Space Imaging Inc., its commercial operator, could no longer operate the satellite profitably.

The marketing rights expired July 1, and now Landsat 5 data is available for unrestricted use, according to USGS. Landsat 7 is operated by USGS.

Because Landsat 5 was commercially operated, Congress provided no funding for it in fiscal 2001. Landsat 5 funding wasn't included in the fiscal 2002 budget request either, so Congress will have to add that money during budget negotiations, Byrnes said.

Although Congress' plans are unclear at this point, Byrnes is optimistic that Landsat 5 will continue providing data.

A USGS effort under way aims to launch a successor to Landsat 7 that's designed and built by the private sector. USGS and NASA officials involved in the Landsat Data Continuity Mission hope to have the next satellite flying by 2005.


Launch date: March 1, 1984

Launch site: Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

Sensor: Thematic Mapper Plus, which can detect features on the Earth's

surface 30 meters square.

Altitude: 438 miles

Speed: 4 miles/sec

Weight: 4,800 pounds

Design life: Five years

Current status: Operational

Source: Space Imaging Inc.


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