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The Final Journey of Landsat 5: A Decommissioning Story

By any measure, the Landsat 5 mission has been an extraordinary success, providing unprecedented contributions to the global record of land change. The USGS has brought the aging satellite back from the brink of failure on several occasions, but the 2012 failure of a gyroscope has left no option but to end the mission.

Lasting until its 29th year of orbiting the planet, Landsat 5 long outlived its original three-year design life. Developed by NASA and launched in 1984, Landsat 5 orbited the planet over 150,000 times while transmitting over 2.5 million images of land surface conditions around the world.

For more than a quarter of a century, Landsat 5 observed our changing planet. It recorded the impact of natural hazards, climate variability and change, land use practices, development and urbanization, ecosystem evolution, increasing demand for water and energy resources, and changing agricultural demands worldwide. Vital observations of the Mount Saint Helens eruption, Antarctica, the Kuwaiti oil fires, the Chernobyl disaster, rainforest depletion, major wildfires and floods, urban growth, global crop production, and ice shelf expansion and retreat have helped increase our understanding and awareness of the impact of humans on the land.

June 5, 2013 - USGS Completes Decommissioning of Landsat 5

On June 5, 2013, the U.S. Geological Survey Flight Operations Team transmitted the last command to the Landsat 5 satellite, effectively terminating the mission 29 years, 3 months and 4 days after its launch by NASA from Vandenberg Air Force Base on March 1, 1984. Landsat 5 orbited the planet over 150,000 times while transmitting over 2.5 million images of land surface conditions around the world, long outliving its original three-year design life. In December 2012, USGS announced that Landsat 5 would be decommissioned. The durable satellite is recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-operating Earth-observing satellite mission in history.

Landsat 5 beamed its last image down to the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Falls, SD, on January 6, 2013. Nine days later, Mission Operations began the methodical process of maneuvering the satellite from its 438 mile-high operational orbit into a lower disposal orbit. With Landsat 5's fuel reserve completely depleted, the Operations team issued commands on June 5 to shut off all moving mechanisms and hobble the spacecraft’s ability to generate and store power from its solar arrays. The final command shut down Landsat 5’s transmitter, silencing the mission permanently.

January 23, 2013 - Phase 1, Burn 2

Landsat 5 is now in a near-circular orbit about 22.9km lower than its operating orbit and completely outside the 705km envelope (where other Earth Observing Satellites, including Landsat 7, operate).

10:08am EST: 180° Yaw Slew initiated. Go for burn. Burn window opens at 10:38.

11:07: Burn Complete! Initiating return slew.

12:01: The spacecraft is in its nominal attitude and in precision pointing.

January 15, 2013 - Initial Maneuver, Phase 1, Burn 1

The Landsat 5 spacecraft was turned into position and the rocket motor thrusters ignited for the first push to a lower orbit. Landsat 5 has officially left the 705 km orbit for the first time in 29 years.

09:32am EST: Slew completed successfully. Go for burn. Burn initiated at 09:33:47.

09:52:47: Burn Completed! Initiating return slew.

10:15:00: Return yaw slew complete.

Spacecraft has been returned to precision pointing mode.