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Atlas 5 rocket launches last Landsat Earth observation satellite into orbit

An Atlas 5 rocket lifted off from California on Monday and propelled a powerful Landsat remote sensing satellite into polar orbit. The $ 750 million mission will replace an aging, less powerful satellite and allow continuous observations of the Earth and its environment around the clock.

“Landsat is our oldest terrestrial remote sensing program,” said Jeff Masek, Landsat 9 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Since 1972, we have taken over 9 million multispectral images of land and coastal regions of the Earth. Through this recording, we can truly document and understand changes in the Earth’s environment, both due to activities. human and natural events.

“I consider Landsat 9 to be a Swiss army knife,” he said. “It is a core set of observations that feeds into a whole range of earth science applications and research.”

Atlas 5 rocket launches last Landsat Earth observation satellite into orbit
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Landsat 9 remote sensing satellite for NASA and the US Geological Survey takes off in thick fog from the Vandenberg Space Force base on the California coast.


The orbit journey began at 2:12 p.m. EDT when a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket came to life and moved away from Space Force Base Vandenberg’s Launch Complex 3 on the California coast northwest of Los Angeles.

Powered by a Russian-built RD-180 first-stage engine generating 860,200 pounds of thrust, the 194-foot-tall Atlas 5 majestically scaled its launch pad and arched south to the over the Pacific Ocean on a track tilted 98 degrees toward the equator.

An hour and 20 minutes later, after a 12-minute fire from the second-stage Centaur engine of the rocket and a long coast phase, Landsat 9 was released to stand on its own, heading into a “sun-synchronous” orbit. 438 miles high. around the earth’s poles.

Such orbits are used by weather, reconnaissance and environmental monitoring satellites like Landsat 9 because they ensure that the spacecraft passes over a given point at the same local time every day and with the same lighting conditions. .

The data will be collected by two instruments. The Operational Land Imager, built by Ball Aerospace, is sensitive to optical and near-infrared wavelengths and is capable of resolving surface features the size of a baseball diamond. The thermal infrared sensor 2 measures surface temperatures with extreme precision over areas the size of a football field.

“The combination of optical observations and thermal infrared gives us in-depth insight into many Earth systems,” said Karen St. Germain, director of earth sciences at NASA Headquarters.

“With Landsat, we can not only see where there is vegetation, but we can also see what types of crops are growing and their health and even estimate yields. And all of this contributes to food security around the world.”

Atlas 5 rocket launches last Landsat Earth observation satellite into orbit
Artist’s impression of Landsat 9 in polar orbit.


Collecting optical and infrared data in bands 115 miles wide as the planet spins below, Landsat 9 will work in concert with Landsat 8, launched in 2013, to image the entire planet every eight days. Landsat 7, which the new satellite replaces, will be retired after 22 years of service.

“The core work of Landsat is to track both natural and human-induced changes in the Earth’s environment and to better support land management decision making,” Masek said.

“Landsat is used to examine long-term trends and ecosystems, human land use and land cover. Landsat is our best source for understanding the rates of Deforestation as well as other forest dynamics such as disturbances hurricanes, forest fires and insect outbreaks as well as the resumption of these disturbances over time. “

Satellites play a key role in monitoring agriculture, measuring water consumption by crops and the transfer of water to the atmosphere, as well as monitoring glacial ice, a critical factor for understand the sea level rises.

Landsats 8 and 9, along with other environmental monitors, provide particularly valuable data to farmers.

“Landsat data inform a wide range of decisions related to the management of crop health and water resources,” St. Germain said in a previous briefing. “These are crucial decisions to alleviate global problems such as regional famine or food shortage in a time of accelerating climate change.

“This data (is) essential for global aid agencies, first responders here in the United States, policy makers at all levels, major agricultural producers and individuals, from farmers and ranchers to city planners.”

Landsat 9 was built by Northrop Grumman for NASA, which managed the program and organized the launch. Once the spacecraft is verified in orbit, the US Geological Survey will take over the satellite’s operations.


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