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For the first time since May 1999, the Landsat 7 satellite has left the Worldwide Reference System-2 (WRS-2) orbit. Following two maneuvers, the satellite was lowered last week to an altitude of 697 kilometers, placing it outside the official envelope of the Earth Observation Satellite (EOS) constellation.

Landsat 7 Satellite Orbit Lowering Illustration
On April 6, 2022, the Landsat 7 ETM+ sensor will be placed into “stand-by” mode as a series of spacecraft burns are performed throughout the month of April to lower the satellite’s orbit by 8 kilometers. This graphic displays how the Landsat 7 spacecraft orbit lowers following each of the spacecraft burns.  Visit this Landsat Missions News for more information about the next phase of the Landsat 7 mission. 

The EOS constellation is made up of the AM satellites (Landsats 7, 8, 9, and Terra) and the PM satellites (Aqua, Aura, GCOM-W). These satellites all fly at 705 kilometers, but at differing equatorial crossing times. 

Landsat 7 joined Landsats 4 and 5 (launched in 1982 and 1984, respectively) in the WRS-2 orbit about a month after its launch on April 15, 1999. Sporting the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) instrument, Landsat 7 heralded unmatched radiometric and geometric calibration and a 250-scene-per-day coverage.

Despite technical issues such as the scan line corrector failure in 2003, the mission collected a treasure trove of Earth observations adding up to more than 3.1 million scenes that are available in the USGS Landsat archive. On April 6, the ETM+ sensor was placed in “stand-by” mode and ended Landsat 7’s primary science mission.

Planning for the orbit lowering started a year ago and was executed flawlessly. Soon Landsat 7 will be in a new orbit, where it will provide new insights to help inform the design of future missions and prepare for a historic refueling operation with NASA’s On-Orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing-1 (OSAM-1) spacecraft.   

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