LDCM Prepares for Launch – Continuing the Landsat legacy

NASA hosted a press conference last Thursday to highlight final preparations as LDCM – the Landsat Data Continuity Mission – prepares for launch on Feb 11, 2013.

LDCMWith the countdown to this momentous launch drawing near – now less than a month away – the excitement amongst the panel members at the press conference was clearly evident. Many eyes from around the world will be expectantly watching Vandenberg Air Force Base in California next month as LDCM lifts-off aboard an Atlas 5 rocket.

LDCM, which will officially be renamed Landsat 8 once in orbit, is important as the next satellite in the long-lived, and incredibly successful, Landsat program. With its new capabilities and improved instrument design, LDCM was described by panelists at the recent briefing as the “best Landsat ever”, delivering both “more data per day” and “higher quality data” than any previous Landsat.

Successful launch of LDCM becomes particularly crucial in light of recent announcements that Landsat 5 will soon be decommissioned and considering ongoing concerns related to the operational limitations of Landsat 7 [note that Landsat 6 failed to reach orbit during its 1993 launch, and thus never made it into operation]. While numerous other satellites provide their own capabilities for Earth observation, the unprecedented 40-year continuity of the Landsat program enables analysis of long-term trends and unique capabilities for the assessment and monitoring of our changing planet. LDCM thus represents more than just a new satellite, but a critically important continuation of numerous global science applications.

LDCM contains two science instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS). The OLI instrument will measure a total of nine spectral bands: eight multispectral bands at 30m resolution in the visible, near-infrared, and shortwave infrared; and one panchromatic band at 15m resolution in the visible. Unlike previous Landsat missions, which used whiskbroom instruments, the OLI utilizes a pushbroom configuration, thereby enabling improved signal-to-noise performance, i.e., improved data quality. The TIRS instrument will measure two thermal bands at 100m resolution, subdividing the single thermal band previously measured by Landsat 4-7. With this overall design configuration, the OLI and TIRS instruments together maintain the legacy of previous Landsat instruments, while at the same time expanding to include additional capabilities.

LDCM is a joint program between NASA and USGS, with NASA handling instrument development, spacecraft design and launch, and USGS handling flight operations, and data processing, distribution and archiving. Importantly, as has been the policy since 2008, data from Landsat 8 will be offered free to all interested users.

The launch will be streamed live on NASA TV (http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/). Don’t miss this historic occasion.

For more information on LDCM: http://ldcm.nasa.gov/

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