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Image of Richat Structure in Africa's Maur Adrar Desert

decorative symbol About Land Imaging

In 1972, the effectiveness of satellite observations of weather had been proven, but the study of land features was untried. The Landsat Program was our nation's first step, and it was so successful it literally changed the way we looked at our planet, almost overnight. An entire new field for scientific study and practical applications had emerged: remote sensing.

Today, the Landsat program has accumulated over 1.7 million scenes and over 630 terabytes of data (one terabyte is equivalent to 109 DVD movies). The archive grows by over 320 gigabytes every day. This data is used for many applications with direct benefits to society:

  • Agriculture and Forestry
  • Land Use Planning and Management
  • Water Resource Management
  • Emergency / Disaster Management
  • Coastal Zone Management
  • Ecological Forecasting
  • National / Homeland Security
  • Transportation Management and Infrastructure Planning

Characteristics & Domain

Optimal characteristics include:

  • Accurate spectral and spatial information
  • Frequent synoptic views of the Earth
  • Calibrated to a national standard over time
  • Precise geo-referenced data for mapping and monitoring
  • Scaleable geospatial information across global, hemispheric, continental, regional, and local geographies

Policy History

Since 1972, the U.S. has flown Landsat - for Agriculture, Forestry, Mapping, Geology, and a variety of scientific uses

In 1979, the U.S. attempted, but failed, to commercialize Landsat

In 1992, the U.S. Congress established The Land Remote Sensing Policy Act

  • Suspended commercialization attempts and authorized Landsat 7
  • Adopted the Landsat Data Availability Policy
    • International Open Skies Treaty
    • Non-Discriminatory User Access
  • Established Commercial Licensing, Advanced Technology, and Applications Research Programs

In 2003, the U.S. attempted, but failed, to establish a Public-Private Partnership for Landsat Data Continuity

In August 2004, OSTP modified Landsat Strategy

  • Validated the importance of Moderate-resolution Imagery to U.S. economic, environmental, and national security interests
  • Transitioned Landsat to a sustained operational program
  • Placed a Landsat-type instrument on the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS)

In December 2005, OSTP revised its Strategy

  • Removed Landsat from NPOESS due to design complexities
  • Authorized construction of a new Landsat "free-flyer" satellite
  • Initiated a Long-Term Continuity Study to identify Future Needs and Options for U.S. Land Imaging
  • Established the Future of Land Imaging Interagency Working Group (FLI-IWG)

OSTP December 2005 memo directed production of a new free-flyer Landsat mission

Synopsis released February 22, 2006

  • Acquisition for free-flyer spacecraft(s), with thermal channel option
  • Incentivize on-orbit delivery to minimize if not eliminate potential gap with Landsat 7 data
  • NASA will conduct on-orbit delivery acceptance then transfer ownership of spacecraft(s) and associated contract to DOI/USGS
  • RFP schedule = Draft 2nd Qtr CY2006; Final 3rd QTR CY 2006


National Science and Technology Council. United States Group on Earth Observations. Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources
National Science and Technology Council. United States Group on Earth Observations. Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources

Last Modified:04/26/06
This website is maintained for historical reference. The information found in this site is current as of the "Last Modified" date.

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