9 million images, 5 decades of research and Landsat legacy


NASA’s Landsat 9 is ready to launch from Space Force Base Vandenberg, near farm fields and vineyards in Lompoc, California. The launch is expected in approximately 13 hours from the filing of this report, according to the countdown on the official NASA website.

NASA has collected more than 9 million images of landscapes and coastlines seen from space over 5 decades. Landsat 9 is a partnership between NASA and the US Geological Survey. Both organizations will continue the essential role of the Landsat program in monitoring, understanding and managing the earth’s resources necessary to sustain human life.

Current increased rates of global land cover and land use change have profound consequences for weather and climate change, ecosystem function and services, carbon cycling and sequestration, resource management, national and global economy, human health and society, informs NASA.

Landsat is the only US satellite system designed and operated to repeatedly observe the world’s land surface at a moderate scale that shows both natural and human-induced changes.

Viewing sites, launch and pre-launch activities

NASA’s next official launch viewing site will be at Lompoc Airport in California, where astro-enthusiasts can learn about sensors, color filters, spectral matching and more.

In addition to the various learning opportunities, there will be a mosaic of Landsat stickers, demonstrations of how Landsat sees in the dark, models, touchscreen videos and games, and more. Those interested can connect with representatives from NASA, the US Geological Survey (USGS) and industrial partners involved in the construction of Landsat 9 at Explore the official Lompoc viewing guide.

A timeline of launches

1972 – 1978: Landsat 1

This was originally called Earth Resources Technology Satellite 1 and carried two essential instruments: a camera built by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) known as the Return Beam Vidicon (RBV); and the Multi Spectral Scanner (MSS) built by the Hughes Aircraft Company.

1975 – 1982: Landsat 2

This second Landsat was almost an identical copy of Landsat 1. Its payload consisted of a Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) and a Multi spectral Scanner (MSS). The specifications of these instruments were identical to those of Landsat 1.

1978 – 1983: Landsat 3

This was also identical to Landsat 1 and Landsat 2. Its payload consisted of a Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) as well as a Multi spectral Scanner (MSS). Included with the MSS was a short-lived thermal tape. MSS data was considered to be more scientifically applicable than RBV, which was rarely used for technical evaluation purposes.

1982 – 1993: Landsat 4

Landsat 4 was equipped with an updated multispectral scanner (MSS) used in previous Landsat missions, as well as a thematic mapper.

1984 – 2013: Landsat 5

It was almost a copy of Landsat 4 and had the longest satellite Earth observation mission in history. It was designed and built at the same time as Landsat 4, this satellite carried the same payload consisting of a Multi Spectral Scanner (MSS) as well as a Thematic Mapper.

1993: Landsat 6

This Landsat failed to reach orbit despite being an improved version of its predecessors. Carrying the same multispectral scanner (MSS), but also an improved thematic mapper, which added a 15m resolution panchromatic band.

1999 – Landsat 7

This version still works with the scan line corrector disabled since May 2003. The main component of Landsat 7 was the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM +). Still composed of the 15m resolution panchromatic band, but also includes full aperture calibration. This allows for an absolute radiometric calibration at 5%.

2013 – Landsat 8

Originally named Landsat Data Continuity Mission from the day it was launched until May 30, 2013, when NASA operations were assigned to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Landsat 8 has two sensors with its payload, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal InfraRed Sensor (TIRS).

2020 – Landsat 9

The Landsat 9, ready to launch in a few hours, is a reconstruction of its predecessor Landsat 8.

A timeline of images captured over the years

1972: Launch of Landsat 1

NASA launched Landsat 1 on July 23, 1972 in space, aboard a Delta 900 rocket, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. That same year, NASA captured images of the Las Vegas extended sprawl.

LANDSAT-1 Mosaic from Italy

1977-1982: Cities stretch out into the desert

In 1977, NASA’s Earth Observatory captured the extensive sprawl of Texas, Las Vegas in the United States, and other cities extending into the desert.

1984-1991: New river deltas

By 1984, the mission captured images of river deltas and sediment flowing along the Atchafalaya River, creating new deltas in the Mississippi Basin.

California coastline captured by Landsat-1
Mosaic of satellite images ERTS-I imagery – 1973

1995-2002: melting glaciers

The Landsat captured images of the melting glaciers and retreat of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska. Geologists can identify cracks and ridges in glaciers and by tracking them over time, they can see how fast the ice is moving.

2002-2012: Drainage of reservoirs

Landsat captured footage of drying reservoirs – Lak Powell, along the Colorado River, which was a critical water source for cities and irrigation.

2012- 2020: Cultivated crops

Landsat captured images of farmers changing the crops they were growing in their fields.

Forest fires and other activities

Landsat has, over the years, provided crucial data on the health of California’s forests, beetle infestations or tree-killing drought. This makes it possible to detect areas that would be at risk of forest fires.

When forest fires burn, the satellite shows natural color images capturing plumes of smoke. The satellite also has instruments that can look through the smoke and clouds to describe the extent of the smoldering fire.

La Palma volcano captured by Landsat 8

New warning systems

Scientists are developing new computer systems and programs to automatically notify recreation managers when flowers appear, NASA explains. This would allow them to test the waters and warn swimmers, boaters and picnickers.

Combining Landsat data with other remote sensing data

By combining the images collected by Landsat and other remote sensing data, scientists get a more complete picture of Earth’s terrain.

Also read: Save the dates: NASA’s launch and landing schedule is here

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