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Landsat 8: The plans, the reality, and the legacy

November 1, 2016

Landsat 8, originally known as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), is a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) partnership that continues the legacy of continuous moderate resolution observations started in 1972. The conception of LDCM to the reality of Landsat 8 followed an arduous path extending over nearly 13 years, but the successful launch on February 11, 2013 ensures the continuity of the unparalleled Landsat record. The USGS took over mission operations on May 30, 2013 and renamed LCDM to Landsat 8. Access to Landsat 8 data was opened to users worldwide. Three years following launch we evaluate the science and applications impact of Landsat 8. With a mission objective to enable the detection and characterization of global land changes at a scale where differentiation between natural and human-induced causes of change is possible, LDCM promised incremental technical improvements in capabilities needed for Landsat scientific and applications investigations. Results show that with Landsat 8, we are acquiring more data than ever before, the radiometric and geometric quality of data are generally technically superior to data acquired by past Landsat missions, and the new measurements, e.g., the coastal aerosol and cirrus bands, are opening new opportunities. Collectively, these improvements are sparking the growth of science and applications opportunities. Equally important, with Landsat 7 still operational, we have returned to global imaging on an 8-day cycle, a capability that ended when Landsat 5 ceased operational Earth imaging in November 2011. As a result, the Landsat program is on secure footings and planning is underway to extend the record for another 20 or more years.