NASA’s Landsat 9 is all set for launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base, near the agricultural fields and vineyards of Lompoc, California. The launch is scheduled in about 13 hours from the time of filing this report, according to the countdown on NASA’s official website.

NASA has collected over 9 million images of Earth’s landscapes and coastlines seen from space over 5 decades. Landsat 9 is a partnership between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Both organizations will continue the Landsat program’s critical role in monitoring, understanding and managing the land resources needed to sustain human life.

Today’s increased rates of global land cover and land use change have profound consequences for weather and climate change, ecosystem function and services, carbon cycling and sequestration, resource management, the national and global economy, human health, and society, informs NASA.

Landsat is the only U.S. satellite system designed and operated to repeatedly observe the global land surface at a moderate scale that shows both natural and human-induced change.

Viewing sites, launch and pre-launch activities

NASA’s next launch’s official viewing site will be at California’s Lompoc Airport, where astro-enthusiasts can learn about sensors, color filters, spectral matching and much more.

In addition to the various learing opportunities, there will be a Landsat sticker mosaic, demonstrations on how Landsat sees in the dark, models, touchscreen videos and games, and more. Those interested can connect with representatives from NASA, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and industry partners involved in building Landsat 9 at Explore Lompoc official viewing guide.

A timeline of launches

1972 – 1978: Landsat 1

This was originally named Earth Resources Technology Satellite 1 and carried two vital instruments: a camera built by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) known as the Return Beam Vidicon (RBV); and the Multi spectral Scanner (MSS) built by the Hughes Aircraft Company.

1975 – 1982: Landsat 2

This second Landsat was almost an identical copy of Landsat 1. Its payload consisted of a Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) and a Multi spectral Scanner (MSS). The specifications of these instruments were identical to Landsat 1.

1978 – 1983: Landsat 3

This too was identical to Landsat 1 and Landsat 2. its payload consisted of a Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) as well as a Multi spectral Scanner (MSS). Included with the MSS was a short-lived thermal band. MSS data was considered more scientifically applicable than the RBV which was rarely used for engineering evaluation purposes.

1982 – 1993: Landsat 4

Landsat 4 carried an updated Multi Spectral Scanner (MSS) used on previous Landsat missions, as well as a Thematic Mapper.

1984 – 2013: Landsat 5

This was nearly a copy of Landsat 4 and had the longest Earth-observing satellite mission in history. It was designed and built at the same time as Landsat 4, this satellite carried the same payload consisting of a Multi Spectral Scanner (MSS) as well as a Thematic Mapper.

1993: Landsat 6

This Landsat failed to reach orbit though it was an upgraded version of its predecessors. Carrying the same Multi spectral Scanner (MSS) but also carrying an Enhanced Thematic Mapper, which added a 15m resolution panchromatic band.

1999 – Landsat 7

This version is still operating with scan line corrector disabled since May 2003. The main component on Landsat 7 was the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+). Still consisting of the 15m-resolution panchromatic band, but also includes a full aperture calibration. This allows for 5% absolute radiometric calibration.

2013 – Landsat 8

Originally named Landsat Data Continuity Mission from the day of its launch until 30 May 2013, when NASA operations were turned over to United States Geological Survey (USGS). Landsat 8 has two sensors with its payload, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal InfraRed Sensor (TIRS).

2020 – Landsat 9

The Landsat 9, all set for launch in a couple of hours, is a rebuild of its predecessor Landsat 8.

A timeline of images captured over the years

1972: Launch of Landsat 1

NASA launched Landsat 1 on July 23, 1972 into space, onboard a Delta 900 rocket, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The same year, NASA captured images of the spreading sprawl of Las Vegas.

LANDSAT-1 Mosaic of Italy

1977-1982: Cities expanding in the desert

In 1977, the NASA Earth Observatory captured the spreading sprawl of Texas, Las Vegas in USA, and other cities expanding into the desert.

1984-1991: New river deltas

By 1984, the mission had captured images of river deltas and sediments flowing down the Atchafalaya river, creating new deltas in the Mississippi basin.

California’s coastline as captured by Landsat-1
Satellite Image Mosaic ERTS-I Imagery – 1973

1995-2002: Melting Glaciers

The Landsat captured images of glaciers melting and retreat of Columbia Glacier in Alaska. Geologists can identify cracks and ridges in glaciers and by tracking them over time, they can see how fast the ice is moving.

2002-2012: Drying up of reservoirs

Landsat captured images of reservoirs drying up – Lak Powell, along the Colorado River, which was an essential source of water for cities and irrigation.

2012- 2020: Crops grown

Landsat captured images of farmers changing the crops that they were growing in their fields.

Wildfires and other activities

Landsat has, over the years, provided crucial data about forest health in California, beetle infestation or drought killing trees. This helps detect areas which would be at a risk of wild-fires.

When wild-fires burn, the satellite shows images in natural color capturing plumes of smoke. The satellite also has instruments that let one look through the smoke and clouds to outline the extent of the smoldering fire.

La Palma volcano captured by Landsat 8

New warning systems

Scientists are developing new systems and computer programs, to automatically warn recreational managers when blooms pop up, says NASA. This would allow them to test the waters and warn swimmers, boaters and picnickers.

Combination of Landsat Data with other remote-sensing data

By combining the images collected by Landsat and other remote-sensing data, Scientists get a fuller portrait of Earth’s terrain.

Also read: Save the dates: NASA’s schedule of launches and landings is here

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