Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

January 5, 2022

Landsat Updates are prepared periodically and distributed electronically to provide information about Landsat activities and related topics of interest.

In this Issue:

Landsat 9 Launch through On-Orbit Checkout
Glimpses of Landsat 9 First Light Images
Once-in-a-Mission Underfly
Latest from the Landsat Science Team
What's Coming in 2022
Landsat 9 Podcasts



Landsat 9 Launch through On-Orbit Checkout

color photo of Landsat 9 launch
Landsat 9 launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base at 1:12 p.m. CT Monday, Sept. 27, aboard an Atlas V rocket. (NASA photo)


Landsat 9 launched successfully on September 27, 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Santa Barbara County, California. The Earth observing satellite separated from the Atlas V rocket at 2:34 p.m. EST and made contact about 80 minutes later with a ground station in Svalbard, Norway. “Landsat 9 is the first mission of the USGS-NASA Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) partnership, delivering the long-awaited first installment of a multi-decadal commitment to sustaining Landsat continuity for hundreds of thousands of users in the U.S. and across the globe,” said Tim Newman, program coordinator for the USGS National Land Imaging Program.

Since launch, Landsat 9 has gone through testing, on-orbit performance evaluations, and communications checks with ground stations around the planet as part of a 100-day checkout phase in partnership with NASA. After the checkout, the USGS will take sole operational control of the satellite. “We’re very excited by the increase in capability Landsat 9 delivers to our users and eager to take operational control of the mission once we finish our on-orbit checkout with NASA,” Newman said.

Thus far during checkout, as reported by NASA on October 4, 2021, the key milestones that Landsat 9 has passed include:

  • deployment of the solar array and power-positive state
  • initiation and testing of all spacecraft subsystems, including attitude control, propulsion, solid state recorder, and payload interfaces
  • successful communications between the Landsat Multi-satellite Operations Center (LMOC) and spacecraft
  • successful contacts between the spacecraft and Landsat Ground Network (LGN) data receiving stations

On Saturday, October 2, the two Landsat 9 instruments (OLI-2 and TIRS-2) were turned on and warmed up, beginning a period of outgassing that lasted three weeks, which is required prior to initial Earth imaging for calibration.  

Orbit insertion by the ULA Atlas V was extremely precise, and as a result Landsat 9 currently has fuel beyond the 10-year mission requirement.  

Landsat 9 acquired its “first-light” Earth images at the end of October. The satellite reached its final orbital ascent at the beginning of December and is planned to start nominal operations in early 2022.  Learn more about the steps EROS took for launch readiness and about Landsat 9’s first contact with ground systems


Glimpses of Landsat 9 First Light Images

Currently, Landsat 9 is in its commissioning phase. On-orbit checkout ensures the instruments are working and collecting high-quality data. Recently NASA and the USGS shared Landsat 9’s “first-light” images. These images were downloaded to several Landsat 9 ground stations to ensure they are able to capture and process these data. The satellite connected to stations in Svalbard, Norway; Gilmore Creek, Alaska; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Two other stations Neustrelitz, Germany and Alice Springs, Australia also successfully received test transmissions of data.

Color Landsat 9 image of Lake Erie
Sediments swirl in Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair in this Landsat 9 image of both Detroit, Michigan, and Windsor, Ontario, from Oct. 31, 2021. The Great Lakes serve as sources of freshwater, recreational activity, transport, and habitat for the upper-midwestern US, and water quality remains a high priority. In warmer months, Landsat 9 observes swirls of green algae which can become harmful algal blooms. Landsat 9 will be able to help scientists and resource managers identify those blooms early, identifying areas to test further.

“When we talk about this data, it’s not just that pretty picture that you see. It takes a lot of work to get there. A lot of the data is what we call ancillary data, everything from spacecraft attitude and ephemeris to the individual temperatures of components within the instruments,” said Chris Engebretson, the USGS EROS Data Processing and Archive Systems (DPAS) Manager. “All of that has a very specific format that has to be read and interpreted correctly, then run through some very complicated algorithms in order to make the imagery that people are accustomed to seeing out of Landsat.”

“They’ve all successfully downloaded and delivered the test pattern imagery at this point,” said Ryan Brown, the USGS Landsat Ground Network Manager at EROS. All five ground stations continue to collect data through the 100-day commissioning phase for Landsat 9. Collaboration and preparation will continue through the end of 2021, with Landsat 9 data expected through USGS traditional data platforms like EarthExplorer, as well as the commercial cloud, in early 2022.

Find additional reading on the first light images here.


Once-in-a-Mission Underfly

The newly launched Landsat 9 experienced a once-in-a-mission event where its orbit was directly below Landsat 8 for an “underfly.” For several days in the middle of November, the pair of Earth-observing satellites flew together, collecting data at the same time for the same sites and required simultaneous downlinking to global ground station antennas.

The underfly is not just an interesting circumstance for Landsat 9. The underfly provides near-coincident data collects from both satellites, allowing opportunities for cross-calibration, characterization, and validation of sensor performance. Underfly opportunities play a major role in cross-calibration efforts. This will help maintain the consistent gold standard of Landsat’s nearly 50-year archive of data as Landsat 9 moves into position to take the place of Landsat 7.


Latest from the Landsat Science Team

NASA and the USGS briefed the Landsat Science Team about Landsat 9 at their Fall Meeting held virtually on November 24, 2021. Landsat 9 is in the middle of its commissioning phase. On-orbit checkout is proceeding nominally, and all major subsystems were checked and exercised in the first few weeks after launch. Downlink capabilities from the X-band is optimal for all five Landsat Ground Network stations, as well as DPAS handling at EROS.

First-light images were released in early November, with the first view from the new orbiting satellite focusing on Australia’s West Coast. The OLI-2 and TIRS-2 instruments are currently acquiring 600+ images a day for calibration and testing, and all indications are that both instruments are performing as expected.

The underfly of Landsat 9 in mid-November collected over 1,400 simultaneous images. This once-in-a-mission opportunity allows for cross-calibration between the Landsat 8 and 9 instruments, ensuring data consistency across the Landsat archive. Field teams from across the world participated in the underfly, collecting field measurements that are paired with the Landsat acquired images for calibration. Final calibration parameters are on track for completion by the end of the commissioning.

As of December 1, 2021, Landsat 9 reached its final World Reference System-2 (WRS-2) orbit at a 705 km altitude and is now imaging on its 16-day cycle. In early 2022, after the Mission Transition and Handover review is complete, responsibility and ownership of the Landsat 9 mission will transfer from NASA to the USGS. 

Presentations from this meeting are available here


What's Coming in 2022

In early 2022, after the Landsat 9 mission is transferred to the USGS, nominal science operations and routine acquisitions will begin and Landsat 9 Level-1 data and Level-2 science products will become available at no cost to users through the Landsat data portals. Keep an eye on USGS Landsat Social Media outlets and the Landsat Missions Web Site for announcements about the availability of Landsat 9 data. 


Landsat 9 Podcasts – Eyes on Earth

Episode 59 - Landsat 9 Ground System

  • In this episode of Eyes on Earth, we hear from two EROS staff members who’ve been involved in the development of the Landsat 9 ground system to learn what it takes to bring Landsat data to the Earth and transform it into the data products and imagery we all recognize.

Episode 60 - Landsat 9 Launch Part 1

  • This episode of Eyes on Earth focuses on the day before the launch, with interviews on the importance of the Landsat program with guests at the launchpad and a Landsat for Climate event.

Episode 61 - Landsat 9 Launch Part 2

  • In this episode of Eyes on Earth, guests from around the world spoke about their role in the Landsat program, and the importance of the program to their work.

Episode 62 -  Landsat 9 Launch Part 3

  • The third and final Landsat 9 launch episode featured an interview with Virginia Norwood. She blazed a trail for women in remote sensing in the 1960s and 70s while working for Hughes Aircraft, a contractor for NASA. Norwood is known as the “Mother of Landsat” for her design of the Multispectral Scanner, or MSS, the sensor used to image the Earth’s surface by early Landsat satellites.


Landsat Missions Website:

Landsat Headlines:

Landsat Updates:

USGS EROS Customer Services       


Phone: 1-800-252-4547


USGS Landsat: @USGSLandsat

NASA Landsat: @NASA_Landsat



NASA Landsat:




Landsat RSS Feeds:

Get Our News

These items are in the RSS feed format (Really Simple Syndication) based on categories such as topics, locations, and more. You can install and RSS reader browser extension, software, or use a third-party service to receive immediate news updates depending on the feed that you have added. If you click the feed links below, they may look strange because they are simply XML code. An RSS reader can easily read this code and push out a notification to you when something new is posted to our site.