NASA Launches New Earth-Observation Satellite Today from California (Live Stream)
Have you ever looked at Google Earth at a regional level? When you do, you're looking at the images from NASA's Landsat data, which is collected from a satellite orbiting the Earth and giving a complete picture of our planet every 16 days. Now, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey mission are set to launch their new Landsat Data Continuity Mission spacecraft.
The new satellite, Landsat 8, will join Landsat 7 in space about 438 miles above the surface. Together, the two will be able to image the entire planet in a mere eight days, though they orbit around the Earth itself every 90 minutes. This imaging system is crucial for tracking large-scale changes on the planet, and gives scientists a bird's eye view of environmental changes and surface processes.
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Since this satellite program began in 1966, there have been seven satellites launched into orbit. Originally called the Earth Resources Technology Satellites Program, the Landsat 1 was officially launched in 1972. Most of these satellites have overlapping terms--sometimes for years. The Landsat 7, which was launched in 1999, still functions in limited capacity. And the Landsat 5 was only recently decommissioned after more than 28 years.
The new satellite, though, has a few upgrades. It will carry two instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal Infrared Center (TIRS). These instruments will improve performance and reliability over previous Landsat sensors. While the technology has been improved, though, the consistency of the data will be maintained so that scientists can still easily compare new data to old data. Each Landsat pixel that the satellite collects will measure 98 feet on a side and will capture enough detail to give scientists a clear picture of the Earth below.
Yet it's not only scientists that have access to this data. The entire image library of Landsat data was placed on the Internet in 2009 for anyone to use. The archived data is the longest continuous record of Earth's land surface as seen from space. It also allows programs such as Google Earth to exist.
Landsat satellites are extremely useful for monitoring Earth's resources. Government officials can keep an eye on deforestation, water management and wildfires. In addition, forest services can watch the intrusion of pests, such as the mountain pine beetle, and scientists can identify the breakup of West Antarctic ice shelves.
The satellite itself will be launched this Monday at 1:02 p.m. EST from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Want to watch the launch? Check out the live stream on NASA TV.