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Landsat 3

Landsat imagery had proven its value by March 5, 1978, the day Landsat 3 launched from what was then known as Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc, CA.

Satellite differences in imagery.
Landsat sensor technology has come a long way since the days of the Return Beam Vidicon cameras on the first three Landsat satellites. Known as the RBV, it was originally intended to be the satellites’ primary sensor. But the Multispectral Scanner, or MSS, became the more stable and superior instrument.

Landsat 3 was the last to carry a Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) camera, imagery from which was higher resolution than its primary sensor, the Multispectral Scanner (MSS), but lacked the capability to capture invisible light. RBV scenes had a resolution of 40 meters per pixel. MSS scenes were 60 meters.

The RBV imagery from Landsats 1-3 still holds an important place in land remote sensing history, thanks to its vintage and that higher resolution. Scientists working to understand land changes prior to the introduction of the higher-resolution Thematic Mapper in 1982 can get a clearer view of landscape change in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Follow this link to learn about the discoveries made possible by RBV imagery.

Landsat 3 was deactivated in 1983, having collected more than 150,000 images of our planet.

Visit the full Landsat 3 page on the Landsat Missions website.

Landsat 3 First Light Image

Landsat 3 First Light Image
Landsat 3’s first image features a slice of Northern California on March 7, 1978. Explore stories, images, and research about Landsat 3 with this Story Map. San Jose sits in Santa Clara Valley touching the southernmost portion of San Francisco. The area is shaken by earthquakes once or twice annually as just east of the city lays the Calaveras Fault. The focused imagery showcases the urbanization of the valley, which exploded in the 1970s as Silicon Valley grew.