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August 11, 2022

Sioux Falls, S.D. — The U.S. Geological Survey assumed complete operational control of the Landsat 9 satellite from NASA today at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in a ceremony featuring Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo and Cathy Richardson, deputy director of flight projects at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Landsat 9 is the most recent in the Landsat series of remote-sensing satellites which provide global coverage of landscape changes on Earth since 1972. All Landsat images are freely available to the public. The Landsat program – a joint effort between NASA and the USGS – recently marked 50 years of continuous service on July 23, 2022.

Landsat 9 handover with DOI, NASA and USGS officials
Landsat 9 handover between USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science and NASA.

“Our partnership with NASA over many years has been good for science and good for the American people," said Assistant Secretary Trujillo. “A half-century archive of Landsat’s Earth observations is a magnificent achievement in the history of science. This 50-year record gives scientists a consistent baseline that can be used to track climate change and enables them to see changes to the land that might not otherwise be noticed.”

“For more than 50 years now, Landsat satellites have helped us learn more about how Earth systems work, how human activities affect those systems, and how we can make better decisions for the future,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Landsat 9, the latest joint effort by NASA and the USGS, proudly carries on that remarkable record.”

Landsat 9 launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Sept. 27, 2021. Since then, NASA mission engineers and scientists, with USGS collaboration, have been putting the satellite through its paces—steering it into its orbit, calibrating the detectors, and collecting test images. Now fully mission-certified, the satellite is under USGS operational control for the remainder of its mission life.

Landsat 9 joined Landsat 8, which has been orbiting since 2013. Together, the two satellites collect images of Earth’s full land surface every eight days. USGS specialists collect an average of 740 Landsat 9 scenes every day from around the world to be processed and archived at the USGS EROS Center in Sioux Falls.

Remote-sensing satellites, such as Landsat, help scientists observe the world using ranges of light beyond the power of human sight to monitor land changes that may have natural or human causes. Landsat is unique because it consistently captures a comprehensive view of Earth at a “moderate resolution” of approximately 30 square meters per pixel, the area of a baseball infield. This global view of changes on the land through decades provides an unparalleled perspective for a broad range of data applications in such fields as agriculture, water management, forestry, disaster response, national security, and—crucially—climate-change science.

Estimates indicate that Landsat provides billions of dollars in value to the U.S. economy each year. Starting in 2008, Landsat images and data became available to the public at no charge – a distribution model comparable to free location data provided through the GPS system and weather information from NOAA. This policy has served to expand applications of Landsat data that enable greater efficiencies for government agencies and academic and non-profit organizations while creating profitable commercial opportunities for information-service industries. Google Earth Engine and ESRI Landsat Explorer are just two examples of commercial Landsat applications.

Looking beyond the current Landsat 8 and 9 satellites to another mission by the end of the decade, a joint NASA-USGS design team has identified an affordable, next-generation concept for the Landsat Next mission. Its planned specifications respond to rigorously documented system requirements to meet ever-increasing user needs to better monitor, understand and eventually predict changes to our Nation’s land surfaces, farmlands, forests, surface waters, and coastlines.

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