Atlas 5 launches Landsat 9

WASHINGTON – An Atlas 5 successfully launched the latest in the Landsat series of earth science satellites on September 27, continuing a program that began nearly half a century ago.

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 401 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 2:12 p.m. EST, quickly disappearing in a dense layer of sea clouds. enveloping the coastal spaceport. The Centaur upper stage placed the Landsat 9 satellite in a sun-synchronous orbit one hour and 20 minutes after take-off.

The nearly $ 750 million Landsat 9 is a quasi-twin of Landsat 8, launched in 2013 and which remains in service. Landsat 9 offers some improvements to its two instruments, a visible and infrared imager and a thermal infrared sensor. The imager, called Operational Land Imager 2, can measure 16,000 shades in each of nine wavelength bands, compared to 4,000 shades in the instrument on Landsat 8, said Michael Egan, NASA’s Landsat program manager. , during a pre-launch briefing on September 25.

Landsat 8 and 9 can each image the entire surface of the Earth every 16 days. They will be staggered in their orbits so that, combined, the two spacecraft will offer an eight-day revisit time. Landsat 9 is expected to enter service in early January, when operations will be transferred to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

Landsat 9 is the latest in a series of missions dating back to the first Landsat launched in 1972. “It represents the longest continuously acquired world record for the surface of the Earth,” Egan said. “Landsat 9 will continue to provide consistent data on the evolution of land cover and land use with our planet. “

This is particularly important, according to scientists, for monitoring climate change. “The USGS 50-Year Archive provides a very reliable, very stable, and high-quality terrestrial and aquatic imagery record that can enable quantification of the spatial and temporal effects of climate variability and change on human systems and natural, ”said Chris Crawford. , a Landsat 9 project scientist at the USGS, during a briefing on September 24.

Landsat 9 is designed to last at least five years, but scientists hope it will last much longer. Landsat 7, launched in 1999, remains in limited service today. Del Jenstrom, Landsat 9 project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said Landsat 9 has enough thruster to operate for at least 15 years, depending on the accuracy of its orbital insertion.

Planning is underway for future Landsat satellites as part of the Landsat Next program. Future Landsat satellites will likely be very different as NASA and USGS incorporate new technologies and architectures.

“We’re looking at a series of improvements, such as higher spatial resolution, more spectral bands, and more frequent coverage, which are the highest priorities we’ve heard from the user community,” said Jeff Masek, scientist of the Landsat 9 project at NASA. Goddard.

The launch also carried four cubesats as secondary payloads, two sponsored by NASA. The Colorado Ultraviolet Transit (CUTE) experiment will study exoplanets passing in front of or passing through their host stars at ultraviolet wavelengths. Boston University’s Cusp Plasma Imaging Detector (CuPID) cubesat will measure X-ray emissions from solar wind particles colliding with Earth’s atmosphere.

Neither party involved in the launch has disclosed details of the other two cubesats, sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Defense Innovation Unit and the Missile Defense Agency. NASA and ULA officials spoke little of them, including their names, during the pre-launch briefing on September 25, other than the fact that one of them would be demonstrating the communications technology. Cesium Astro previously said it has built two cubesats that will participate in this launch to test its phased array antenna technology.

“The Space Force was very quiet about what their two cubesats were doing,” said Tim Dunn, mission launch director for NASA’s launch services program.

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