The eighth and most advanced in a series of earth-observing satellites soared into space on Monday, continuing a four-decade initiative to track the effect humans have on the earth’s ever-changing environment and climate.
The $855-million mission, run jointly by NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), has been monitoring trends such as glacial retreat, urban sprawl, glacier melt and forest loss continuously since the first Landsat satellite launch in 1972.
The satellite will eventually enter into orbit and be subjected to a series of tests conducted by NASA over the next three months. If the initial tests go as planned, operations will then be turned over to the USGS, and the LDCM will then be renamed Landsat 8.
NASA said LDCM continues the legacy of earth-observing with more and better observations.
The spacecraft carries two instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS). The measurements will be compatible with data from past Landsat satellites, but the LDCM instruments use advanced technology to improve reliability, sensitivity, and data quality.
"LDCM is the best Landsat satellite ever built," said Jim Irons, a LDCM project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
"The technology will advance and improve the array of scientific investigations and resource management applications supported by Landsat images. I anticipate new knowledge and applications to emerge with an increasing demand for the data," Irons said.
It is expected to capture some 400 photographs a day, transmitting the images to ground stations in Alaska, South Dakota and Norway.
The satellite will operate for five years, though there is enough fuel on board to last 10 years, said Frank Kelly, director of the USGS Center for Earth Resources Observations and Science.
The new satellite is set to work in conjunction with Landsat 7, which blasted off in April 1999 and is the only other Landsat satellite still in commission.
Together, the two satellites will orbit the globe and provide a complete view of the earth every eight days, researchers said.
Landsat satellites have been key witnesses to history, documenting the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption and the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
NASA is hopeful the new satellite and its instruments will last well beyond their design life.