Described as one of the most important space launches of 2013, the latest Landsat mission hurled into space yesterday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The Landsat Earth-monitoring satellite is set to monitor the Earth’s changing landscapes from space.
The Landsat programme has been providing imagery of the planet since the first satellite was launched in 1972. It is a collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
The satellite is set to maintain the longest continuous image archive of the Earth’s surface, documenting everything from glacial melting to natural disasters and the impact of climate change on the planet.
For 40 years the Landsat programme has provided digital photos to help scientists carry out research on areas such as climate, ecosystems, water cycles and changes to the Earth’s surface. Landsat’s image archive is accessible to everyone, however.
The latest Landsat spacecraft blasted off aboard an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California yesterday at 6.02pm GMT (1.02pm EST).
Known as the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), it will take NASA three months to test the platform. The U.S. Geological Survey will then take control of the satellite. LDCM will join the 14-year-old Landsat 7 satellite to provide images of Earth from 438 miles above the planet.
The satellite will orbit Earth every 99 minutes and image the entire planet every 16 days.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said the launch of Landsat will extend the longest continuous data record of the Earth’s surface as seen from space.
"This data is a key tool for monitoring climate change and has led to the improvement of human and biodiversity health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture monitoring," he said.
Google also uses Landsat data in its Google Earth and Maps applications.
A Landsat 5 image of Vancouver, Canada. The image was taken in August 2011. In this image Vancouver appears grey and white. Vegetation is green, water is blue and bare ground is tan. Image via NASA