Landsat, Collections Forum Updates Missions, Products, and Future Possibilities

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EROS officials used a noon forum on Monday (Dec. 2) to provide high-level updates on multiple Landsat fronts—from progress on the building of Landsat 9 and its ground system to the status of existing Landsat satellites, the work of the Architecture Study Team on Landsat Next, and what’s happening with Landsat products and Collections.

Landsat 9 TIRS-2 Instrument Being Prepared for Environmental Testing at NASA/GSFC

The Landsat 9 TIRS-2 Instrument Being Prepared for Environmental Testing at NASA/GSFC. 

Brian Sauer, the Landsat 9 Project Manager and Acting New Mission Branch Chief, called it an appropriate time to talk about what’s been accomplished in the last year, and what’s coming up.

“I think this is the first time in history that we’ve had an architecture study for a new mission going on right when we’re in development of an existing mission,” Sauer said. “We’ve also got two strong satellites operating, collecting data. So, a lot of the things we’re talking about are all the fruits that came out of labor that’s sitting here today.”

Landsat Mission Operations Manager Jim Lacasse discussed satellite operations, while Landsat Project Scientist Chris Crawford talked about Landsat products and Collections. Sauer offered an update on the status of Landsat 9, and filled in for an absent Doug Daniels (the USGS co-chair of the 2019 NASA-USGS Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture Study Team) on the architecture study.

Here are key points from those presentations.

Landsat Mission Operations Project (Lacasse)

  • Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 are performing well. Landsat 7 acquires about 480 images a day; Landsat 8, about 700 images daily.
  • Increasing amounts of space junk resulting from such things as the accidental collision of the Iridium 33-Kosmos 2251 satellites in 2009, China’s disintegration of its Fengyun-1C weather satellite in 2007, and a growing number of rocket bodies and other debris means Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 each must be maneuvered out of harm’s way roughly two times each year.
  • Mission Operations is expecting feedback this month from the Landsat Science Team on the minimum allowable Landsat 7 Mean Local Time crossing time based on their science needs. The standard operational mandate has been 10 a.m. plus-or-minus 15 minutes. It was at 9:58:29 on Oct. 9, 2019 and is expected to drop to 9:15 a.m. by mid-July of 2021.
  • The 10-meter antenna put in for Landsat 7 at EROS in 1998 has two motors on each of its three axis that will be replaced with brushless motors in March/April 2020

Landsat 9 Project Update (Sauer)

  • The development and performance of the Operational Land Imager-2 and Thermal Infrared Sensor-2 instruments on Landsat 9 continue to be excellent. Both instruments have been delivered to Northrop Grumman in Gilbert, AZ, for integration with the space bus.
  • Encoder challenges with Landsat 8’s TIRS instrument and the stray light anomaly on Landsat 8 have been fixed for Landsat 9.
  • The schedule for some of the environmental testing of modules on the spacecraft bus has been challenged because testing beds for such things as the interface electronics module and the power distribution unit are being used for a Department of Defense mission that has taken priority. Sauer said it isn’t expected to greatly impact the L9 mission timeline.
  • EROS and USGS have successfully accomplished the first two Ground Readiness Tests (GRT) for the Landsat 9 Ground System and are in the process of a second dry run for GRT-3, which they hope to complete after the first of next year. GRT-3 is full interval, end-to-end testing that includes the Landsat Ground Station, Data Processing and Archive System, and Landsat Multi-Satellite Operations Center (LMOC). It includes most of the requirements at the ground system level for launch, early orbit, and commissioning.
  • Backup mission operations equipment will be hosted at EROS for the LMOC. The equipment will be able to be operated remotely from Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in case of problems with LMOC equipment at GSFC. Conference Room 1310 at EROS is being converted to a backup Operations Control Center and will host staff in the event of an inability to operate from GSFC and will be used for proficiency tests. The backup equipment will begin to arrive at EROS in spring 2020

Landsat Products and Collections (Crawford)

  • Landsat Collection 2 will maintain continuity with Collection 1, but will also harness more recent advancements in processing, algorithm development, and access and distribution services.
  • Crawford said Collection 2 will have improved per-pixel geodetic accuracy by incorporating Landsat 8 ground control into the processing system, and then, harmonizing that with Sentinel-2 Ground Reference Images (GRI) from the European Space Agency/Copernicus program. That will bring Landsat and Sentinel-2 images into more alignment, Crawford said, and is what he called the real driver behind moving to and initiating Collection 2.
  • Collection 2 will provide a global inventory of scene-based Level-2 surface reflectance and surface temperature data products that meet the solar elevation angle criteria.
  • The number of Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 Level-1 scenes achieving the T1 Collections criteria will increase due to improvements in terrain precision modeling.
  • Digital Elevation Model sources will be updated for various global regions to support Level-1 processing.
  • Crawford said Landsat Collection 2 processing is scheduled to begin in early 2020 in the USGS Cloud Hosting Solutions (CHS) contracted Amazon Web Services commercial cloud, with Collection 2 data products available shortly thereafter. Landsat Collection 1 data products will remain available and accessible for a minimum of 12 months after Collection 2 processing is complete.

Architecture Study Team (Sauer-Doug Daniels)

  • The final report on the AST’s technical feasibility study looking at design and implementation approaches for a spaceborne system to provide global, continuous Landsat-quality multispectral and thermal infrared measurements for approximately 15 years beginning in 2026 is being delivered this month.
  • The report will suggest as many as three viable architecture concepts and capabilities based on Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) requirements that will provide NASA and the USGS a basis for deciding future acquisition strategies and approaches. There is no promise those recommendations will be made public.
  • With lower costs anticipated for spacecraft technology and launches in the future, and with the possibility that the volume of data could grow dramatically with data buys, interoperability with other systems, and more frequent measurements, the ground segment and long-term operations may be a greater driver of costs with Landsat Next than the historically higher space segment.
  • An obvious emphasis for Landsat Next is the continuity of the record. But users are also requiring enhanced temporal frequency, spatial resolution, and spectral information to address such issues as land use/land cover, agriculture and evapotranspiration, coastal impacts, forestry, public health, cryosphere, hydrology, and water quality applications.


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