Landsat program is the longest-running enterprise for acquisition
of satellite imagery of Earth. On July 23, 1972 the
Technology Satellite was launched. This was eventually renamed to
Landsat. The most recent, Landsat 8, was launched on February 11,
2013. The instruments on the Landsat satellites have acquired millions
of images. The images, archived in the United States and at Landsat
receiving stations around the world, are a unique resource for global
change research and applications in agriculture, cartography, geology,
forestry, regional planning, surveillance and education, and can be
viewed through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) 'EarthExplorer'
Landsat 7 data has eight spectral bands with spatial
resolutions ranging from 15 to 60 meters; the temporal resolution is
16 days. Landsat images are usually divided into scenes for easy
downloading. Each Landsat scene is about 115 miles long and 115 miles
wide (or 100 nautical miles long and 100 nautical miles wide, or 185
kilometers long and 185 kilometers wide).
2 Satellite chronology
3 Technical details
4 Uses of Landsat imagery
4.1 Natural resources management
4.2 Climate change and environmental disasters
4.2.1 The shrinking of the Aral Sea
4.2.2 Yellowstone park historic fires
4.2.3 Glacier retreat
4.3 Discovery of new species
6 See also
8 External links
Hughes Santa Barbara Research Center initiated, designed, and
fabricated the first three Multispectral Scanners (MSS) in 1969. The
first prototype MSS was completed within nine months, in the fall of
1970. It was tested by scanning
Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.
The program was initially called the
Earth Resources Technology
Satellites Program, which was used from 1966 to 1975. In 1975, the
name was changed to Landsat. In 1979, President of the United States
Jimmy Carter's Presidential Directive 54 transferred Landsat
NASA to NOAA, recommended development of a long term
operational system with four additional satellites beyond Landsat 3,
and recommended transition to private sector operation of Landsat.
This occurred in 1985 when the
Earth Observation Satellite Company
(EOSAT), a partnership of
Hughes Aircraft and RCA, was selected by
NOAA to operate the Landsat system with a ten-year contract. EOSAT
Landsat 4 and Landsat 5, had exclusive rights to market
Landsat data, and was to build Landsats 6 and 7.
A simulated-color satellite image of
Kolkata taken on NASA's Landsat 7
In 1989, this transition had not been fully completed when NOAA's
funding for the
Landsat program was due to run out (NOAA had not
requested any funding, and Congress had appropriated only six months
of funding for the fiscal year) and NOAA directed that Landsats 4
and 5 be shut down. The head of the newly formed National Space
Council, Vice President Dan Quayle, noted the situation and arranged
emergency funding that allowed the program to continue with the data
archives intact. 
Again in 1990 and 1991, Congress provided only half of the year's
funding to NOAA, requesting that agencies that used Landsat data
provide the funding for the other six months of the upcoming year.
In 1992, various efforts were made to procure funding for follow on
Landsats and continued operations, but by the end of the year EOSAT
ceased processing Landsat data.
Landsat 6 was finally launched on
October 5, 1993, but was lost in a launch failure. Processing of
Landsat 4 and 5 data was resumed by EOSAT in 1994.
Landsat 7 on April 15, 1999.
The value of the
Landsat program was recognized by Congress in October
1992 when it passed the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act (Public Law
102-555) authorizing the procurement of
Landsat 7 and assuring the
continued availability of Landsat digital data and images, at the
lowest possible cost, to traditional and new users of the data.
July 23, 1972
January 6, 1978
5 years, 6 months and 14 days
Earth Resources Technology Satellite 1. Landsat 1
carried two vital instruments; a camera built by the Radio Corporation
of America (RCA) known as the Return Beam Vidicon (RVB). As well as a
Multi spectral Scanner (MSS) built by the
Hughes Aircraft Company.
January 22, 1975
February 25, 1982
7 years, 1 month and 3 days
Nearly identical copy of Landsat 1. Payload consisting of a Return
Beam Vidicon (RBV) and a Multi spectral Scanner (MSS). The
specifications of these instruments were identical to Landsat 1.
March 5, 1978
March 31, 1983
5 years and 26 days
Nearly identical copy of
Landsat 1 and Landsat 2. Payload consisting
of a Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) as well as a Multi spectral Scanner
(MSS). Included with the MSS was a short-lived thermal band. MSS data
was considered more scientifically applicable than the RBV which was
rarely used for engineering evaluation purposes.
July 16, 1982
December 14, 1993
11 years, 4 months and 28 days
Landsat 4 carried an updated Multi Spectral Scanner (MSS) used on
previous Landsat missions, as well as a Thematic Mapper.
March 1, 1984
June 5, 2013
29 years, 3 months and 4 days
Nearly identical copy of Landsat 4. Longest Earth-observing satellite
mission in history. 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.
October 5, 1993
October 5, 1993
Failed to reach orbit.
Landsat 6 was an upgraded version of its
predecessors. Carrying the same Multi spectral Scanner (MSS) but also
carrying an Enhanced Thematic Mapper, which added a 15m-resolution
April 15, 1999
18 years, 11 months and 22 days
Operating with scan line corrector disabled since May 2003. The
main component on
Landsat 7 was the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus
(ETM+). Still consisting of the 15m-resolution panchromatic band, but
also includes a full aperture calibration. This allows for 5% absolute
February 11, 2013
5 years, 1 month and 26 days
Originally named Landsat Data Continuity Mission from launch until May
30, 2013, when
NASA operations were turned over to USGS. Landsat 8
has two sensors with its payload, the
Operational Land Imager
Operational Land Imager (OLI)
and the Thermal InfraRed Sensor (TIRS).
December 2020 (expected)
Landsat 9 will be a rebuild of its predecessor Landsat 8.
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False-color composite (processed to simulate true color) image of the
island of Hawaii was constructed from data gathered between 1999 and
2001 by the Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) instrument, flying
Landsat 7 satellite. The Landsat data was processed by the
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to
develop a landcover map. The black areas on the island (in this scene)
that resemble a pair of sun-baked palm fronds are hardened lava flows
formed by the active
Mauna Loa Volcano. Just to the north of Mauna Loa
is the dormant grayish
Mauna Kea Volcano, which hasn’t erupted in an
estimated 3,500 years. A thin greyish plume of smoke is visible near
the island’s southeastern shore, rising from Kilauea—the most
active volcano on Earth. Heavy rainfall and fertile volcanic soil have
given rise to Hawaii’s lush tropical forests, which appear as solid
dark green areas in the image. The light green, patchy areas near the
coasts are likely sugar cane plantations, pineapple farms, and human
Landsat missions 1 through 5 carried the Landsat Multispectral Scanner
(MSS), while missions 4 and 5 used the Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM)
Multispectral Scanner had a 230 mm (9 in) fused
silica dinner-plate mirror epoxy bonded to three invar tangent bars
mounted to base of a Ni/Au brazed
Invar frame in a Serrurier truss
that was arranged with four "Hobbs-Links" (conceived by Dr. Gregg
Hobbs), crossing at mid-truss. This construct ensured the secondary
mirror would simply oscillate about the primary optic axis to maintain
focus despite vibration inherent from the 360 mm (14 in)
beryllium scan mirror. This engineering solution allowed the United
States to develop LANDSAT at least five years ahead of the French
SPOT, which first used CCD arrays to stare without need for a scanner.
However, LANDSAT data prices climbed from $250 per computer compatible
data tape and $10 for black-and-white print to $4,400 for data tape
and $2,700 for black-and-white print by 1984, making SPOT data a much
more affordable option for satellite imaging data. This was a direct
result of the commercialization efforts begun under the Carter
administration, though finally completed under the Reagan
The MSS FPA, or
Focal Plane Array consisted of 24 square optical
fibers extruded down to 0.005 mm (0.0002 in) square fiber
tips in a 4x6 array to be scanned across the Nimbus spacecraft path in
a ±6 degree scan as the satellite was in a 1.5 hour polar orbit,
hence it was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The fiber optic
bundle was embedded in a fiber optic plate to be terminated at a relay
optic device that transmitted fiber end signal on into six photodiodes
and 18 photomultiplier tubes that were arrayed across a 7.6 mm
(0.30 in) thick aluminum tool plate, with sensor weight balanced
vs the 230 mm telescope on opposite side. This main plate was
assembled on a frame, then attached to the silver-loaded magnesium
housing with helicoil fasteners.
Key to the success of the multi spectral scanner was the scan monitor
mounted on the underbelly of the magnesium housing. It consisted of a
diode light source and a sensor mounted at the ends of four flat
mirrors that were tilted so that it took 14 bounces for a beam to
reflect the length of the three mirrors from source to sender. The
beam struck the beryllium scan mirror seven times as it reflected
seven times off the flat mirrors. The beam only sensed three
positions, being both ends of scan and the mid scan, but by
interpolating between these positions that was all that was required
to determine where the multi spectral scanner was pointed. Using the
scan monitor information the scanning data could be calibrated to
display correctly on a map.
Uses of Landsat imagery
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One of the great advantages of remote sensing is that it provides data
at a broader and more global level that is otherwise impossible to
gather when using conventional equipment. However, there is a tradeoff
between the local detail of the measurements and the scale of the area
being measured compared to using other remote sensing methods such as
Remote sensing provides information about geographic spaces, like
ecosystems that allows scientists to predict the distribution of
species, as well as detecting both natural occurring and anthropogenic
generated changes in a greater scale than traditional data provided by
field work. It also presents data more accurately than models that are
derived from field work. The different bands in Landsat, with diverse
spectral range provide highly differentiated applications. There are
big and diverse applications of Landsat imagery and satellite date in
general, ranging from ecology to geopolitical matters. Land cover
determination has become a very common use of Landsat Imagery and
remotely sensing generated images all around the world.
Natural resources management
In 1975, one potential application for the new satellite-generated
imagery was to find high yield fishery areas. Through the Landsat
Menhaden and Thread Investigation, some satellite data of the eastern
portion of the
Mississippi sound and another area off the coast of the
Louisiana coast data was run through classification algorithms to rate
the areas as high and low probability fishing zones, these algorithms
yielded a classification that was proven with in-situ measurements –
to be over 80% accurate and found that water color, as seen from
space, and turbidity significantly correlate with the distribution of
Menhaden – while surface temperature and salinity do not appear to
be significant factors. Water color – measured with the
multispectral scanners four spectral bands, was used to infer
chlorophylls, turbidity, and possibly fish distribution.
An ecological study used at 16 ortho-rectified Landsat images to
generate a land cover map of Mozambique's mangrove forest. The main
objective was to measure the mangrove cover and above ground biomass
on this zone that until now could only be estimated, the cover was
found with 93% accuracy to be 2909 square kilometers (27% lower than
previous estimates). Additionally, the study helped confirm that
geological setting has a greater influence on biomass distribution
than latitude alone-the Mangrove area is spread across 16 degrees of
latitude but it the biomass volume of it was affected more strongly by
Climate change and environmental disasters
The shrinking of the Aral Sea
The shrinking of the
Aral Sea has been described as "One of the
planet's worst environmental disasters". Landsat Imagery has been used
as a record to quantify the amount of water loss and the changes to
the shoreline. Satellite visual images have a greater impact on
people than just words, and this shows the importance of Landsat
imagery and satellite images in general.
Yellowstone park historic fires
Yellowstone fires of 1988
Yellowstone fires of 1988 were the worst in the recorded history
of the national park. They lasted from June 14 to September 11, when
rain and snow helped halt the spread of the fires. The area affected
by the fire was estimated to be 3,213 square kilometers – 36% of the
park. Landsat Imagery was used for the area estimation, and it also
helped determine the reasons why the fire spread so quickly.
Historic drought and a significant number of lightning strikes were
some of the factors that created conditions for the massive fire, but
anthropogenic actions amplified the disaster. On images generated
previous to the fire, there is an evident difference between lands
that display preservation practices and the lands that display clear
cut activities for timber production. These two type of lands reacted
differently to the stress of fires, and it is believed that that was
an important factor on the behavior of the wildfire. Landsat Imagery,
and satellite imagery in general, have contributed to understanding
fire science; fire danger, wildfire behavior and the effects of
wildfire on certain areas. It has helped understanding of how
different features and vegetation fuel fires, change temperature, and
affect the spreading speed.
The serial nature of Landsat missions and the fact that is the
longest-running satellite program gives it a unique perspective to
generate information of earth. Glacier retreat in a big scale can be
traced back to previous Landsat missions, and this information can be
used to generate climate change knowledge. The Columbia glacier
retreat for example, can be observed in false-composite images since
Landsat 4 in 1986.
Landsat imagery gives a time-lapse like series of images of
development. Human development specifically, can be measured by the
size a city grows over time. Further than just population estimates
and energy consumption, Landsat imagery gives an insight of the type
of urban development, and study aspects of social and political change
through visible change. In Beijing for example, a series of ring roads
started to develop in 1980s following the economic reform of 1970, and
the change in development rate and construction rate was accelerated
on these time periods.
Discovery of new species
In 2005, Landsat imagery assisted in the discovery of new species.
Conservation scientist Julian Bayliss wanted to find areas that could
potentially become conservation forests using Landsat generated
satellite images. Bayliss saw a patch in
Mozambique that until then
had no detailed information. On a reconnaissance trip, on he found
great diversity of wildlife as well three new species of butterflies
and a new snake species. Following his discovery, he continued to
study this forest and was able to map and determine the forest
Landsat 8, launched 11 February 2013, is the most recent satellite in
the Landsat series. It was launched on an
Atlas V 401 from Vandenberg
Air Force Base by the Launch Services Program. It will continue to
obtain valuable data and imagery to be used in agriculture, education,
business, science, and government. The new satellite was assembled in
Arizona by Orbital Sciences Corporation.
Preliminary planning has begun for Landsat 9, though its future
remains uncertain. Over the course of FY2014 financial planning
NASA for unrealistic expectations that a Landsat
9 would cost $1 billion, and capped spending at $650 million"
according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. Senate
appropriators have advised
NASA to plan for a launch no later than
2020. In April 2015,
NASA and the
USGS announced that work on
Landsat 9 had commenced, with funding allocated for the satellite in
the president's FY2016 budget, for a planned launch in 2023.
Funding for the development of a low-cost thermal infrared (TIR)
free-flying satellite for launch in 2019 was also proposed, to ensure
data continuity by flying in formation with Landsat 8.
Overview of the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS), one of the instruments
on Landsat 8.
A timelapse of the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) instrument for
Landsat 8 being cleaned, bagged, and packed to ship to Orbital
Sciences Corp, where TIRS will be integrated with the spacecraft.
Animation showing how different LDCM bands can be combined to obtain
different information over the Florida Everglades.
Screenshot capture from
NASA TV showing the
Atlas V during the launch
of Landsat 8.
Earth observation satellite
Geographic information system
Orthophoto, corrected for uniform scale like a map
^ Short, N.M. "The LANDSAT Tutorial Workbook: Basics of Satellite
NASA Reference Publication 1078. NASA. Retrieved 20
^ The Landsat Program - Technical Details Archived 2010-05-01 at the
^ "Presidential Directive 54" (PDF). jimmycarterlibrary.gov. The White
House. November 16, 1979. Archived from the original (PDF) on January
30, 2017. Retrieved April 18, 2017.
^ a b c Folger, Peter (October 27, 2014). "Landsat: Overview and
Issues for Congress" (PDF). fas.org. Congressional Research Service.
Retrieved April 18, 2017.
^ a b c Greenberg, Joel S.; Hertzfeld, Henry (1992). Space Economics.
AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics & Ast). p. 372.
^ a b United Press International (1989-03-03). "Govt. pulls the plug
on two satellites, threatening jobs". Ellensburg Daily Record.
^ Associated Press (1989-03-07). "Quayle backs satellite program". The
Lewiston Journal. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
^ John Noble Wilford (1989-03-17). "U.S. Halts Plan to Turn Off the
Landsat Satellites". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-19.
Landsat 5 Mission Ends « Landsat Science".
^ "Landsat Science".
Landsat 7 « Landsat Science". landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov.
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Landsat 8 « Landsat Science". landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov.
^ "Landsat 9".
NASA Landsat Science. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
^ "Failure Of
Landsat 6 Leaves Many Researchers In Limbo - The
^ Kemmerer, Andrew (March 2017). "Finding Fish With Satellites" (PDF).
^ Fatoyinbo, Temilola (March 2017). "Landscape-scale extent, height,
biomass, and carbon estimation of Mozambique's mangrove forest with
Landsat ETM+ and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission elevation data". AGU
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^ Mason, Betsy (March 2017). "Landsat's Most Historically Significant
Earth From Space". Wired dsite.
^ "– Uncertain Funding Jeopardizes U.S. Land Imaging Satellites -
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USGS Begin Work on
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