Landsat Program: 40+ Years Archive of Earth

Landsat-8 Illustration Above Earth

The Landsat Program: Landsat 1 to Landsat 9

Imagine being able to rewind forty years for any given place and time.

Then, see how much it’s changed. How much would you pay for that?

Turns out you can go almost 50 years back in time through the Landsat Program!

Today, let’s take a close look at the largest archive of Earth. All collected from Landsat satellites.

The Landsat Program Timeline

There have been 8 Landsat satellites. One of them didn’t make it in orbit. But the other seven satellites did.

Landsat 9 is the next planned mission. USGS plans to launch Landsat 9 in December 2020.

Landsat’s other name is the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM). This is because there’s a commitment to ensure the future of Landsat.

From Landsat 1 to 8, all Landsat imagery is openly available through the USGS Earth Explorer

Today, let’s go on a journey of the Landsat program.

Landsat 1

Landsat file
Landsat-1 Scene: Coast of Italy (1973)

The archive of our planet starts with Landsat 1. Originally, Landsat was named Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS). But we now simply call it Landsat 1. It’s because of Landsat 1, you can rewind time as far back as 1972.

Because of its success, Landsat 1 paved the way for future satellites. In fact, it even discovered an island on the coast of Labrador that we still call “Landsat Island”.

Launch Date July 23, 1972
Deactivation Date January 6, 1978
Sensor 1 Return Beam Vidicon (RBV)
Sensor 2 Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution 80 m
Scene Size 170 km x 185 km
Launch Base Vandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 2

Landsat-2
Landsat 2 Scene

This was the second mission of the Landsat program. It was originally named ERTS-B and launched on January 22, 1975. For a span of 7 years, it collected 240,000 scenes. Then, USGS removed it from operational status on February 25, 1982.

Landsat 2 was nearly identical to its predecessor. For example, it collected green, red, and two near-infrared bands. Also, the resolution was mostly the same at 80m pixel size.

Launch Date January 22, 1975
Deactivation Date February 25, 1982
Sensor 1 Return Beam Vidicon (RBV)
Sensor 2 Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution 40m, 80m
Scene Size 170 km x 185 km
Launch Base Vandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 3

Landsat-3
Landsat 3 Scene

The goal for Landsat 3 was to continue archiving the planet without any gaps in time. As Landsat 3 was in service for over 5 years, it was able to collect 140,000 scenes.

Landsat 3 had similar specs to past satellites. For example, it collected green, red, and two near-infrared bands. But it also had a thermal band, which failed shortly after launch.

Launch Date March 5, 1978
Deactivation Date March 31, 1983
Sensor 1 Return Beam Vidicon (RBV)
Sensor 2 Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution 40m, 80m
Scene Size 170 km x 185 km
Launch Base Vandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 4

Landsat 4 Scene

This is the fourth mission of the Landsat program. By collecting 217,650 total scenes, it continued its long-running archive. But Landsat 4 was different because USGS introduced a brand new sensor.

Landsat 4 was the first satellite to equip the Thematic Mapper (TM). Instead of 4 bands like before, Landsat 4 gathered 7 in total. Also, ground resolution sharpened substantially to 30 m pixel size. But the thermal band had 120 m resolution.

Launch Date July 16, 1982
Deactivation Date December 14, 1993
Sensor 1 Thematic Mapper (TM)
Sensor 2 Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution 30m, 120m
Bands Blue, Green, Red, NIR1, NIR2, MIR, Thermal
Launch Base Vandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 5

Landsat-5
Landsat-5 Scene

Despite a 3-year design life, Landsat 5 operated for nearly 29 years. Because of its durability, it’s recognized in the Guinness World Records for the longest operating earth observation satellite in history.

Landsat 5 collected imagery for major events including Chernobyl, devastating tsunamis, and deforestation. Because it also had the Thematic Mapper, Landsat 5 images are consistent with its immediate predecessor.

Launch Date March 1, 1984
Deactivation Date June 5, 2013
Sensor 1 Thematic Mapper (TM)
Sensor 2 Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution 30m, 120m
Bands Blue, Green, Red, NIR1, NIR2, MIR, Thermal
Launch Base Vandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 6

Unfortunately, Landsat 6 was the only satellite in the Landsat program that failed to reach orbit. NOAA attributes a ruptured manifold as the main reason for failure. This rupture prevented fuel from reaching the satellites stabilizing engines.

Landsat 6 was supposed to have an upgraded Thematic Mapper. The Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM) would collect 15 m panchromatic images. But the other 7 spectral bands would remain 30 meters ground resolution.

Landsat 7

Landsat-7
Landsat-7 Scene

This is the 7th satellite of the Landsat program. It was the first to reach orbit with the Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+) instrument which added a 15 m panchromatic band.

In May 2003, Landsat 7 endured a mechanical failure in the Scan Line Corrector (SLC). Since then, Landsat 7 images have resulted in partially missing data because of the SLC failure.

Launch Date April 15, 1999
Status Remains in orbit
Sensor Enhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+)
Resolution 15m, 30m and 60m
Bands Blue, Green, Red, NIR-1, SWIR-1, SWIR-2, Thermal, Panchromatic
Launch Base Vandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 8

Landsat
Landsat 8 Scene

This satellite has two instruments combining for 11 total spectral bands. Seven of the eleven spectral bands are basically consistent with ETM+ found on Landsat 7.

Landsat 8 bands include coastal, blue, green, red, NIR, SWIR-1, SWIR-2 and cirrus bands at 30m resolution. While the panchromatic band has 15m resolution, TIRS is 100m pixel size.

Launch Date February 11, 2013
Status Remains in orbit
Sensor 1 Operational Land Imager (OLI)
Sensor 2 Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS)
Resolution 15m, 30m and 100m
Bands Coastal, Blue, Green, Red, NIR1, SWIR-1, SWIR-2, Cirrus, Panchromatic, TIR-1, TIR-2
Launch Base Vandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 9

Just recently announced, Landsat 9 is getting fast-tracked to December, 2020. This will replace the faulty Landsat 7 and extend the lifeline of the Landsat program.

Landsat 9 is set to duplicate the design of OLI. Unfortunately, OLI-2 won’t follow in the footsteps of Sentinel-2 with sharper imagery. Even though TIRS-2 will have improvements for its instrument, the ground resolution remains the same 100 meters.

Launch Date December, 2020
Sensor 1 Operational Land Imager (OLI-2)
Sensor 2 Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS-2)
Resolution 15m, 30m and 100m
Bands Coastal, Blue, Green, Red, NIR1, SWIR-1, SWIR-2, Cirrus, Panchromatic, TIR-1, TIR-2
Launch Base Vandenberg Air Force Base

The Landsat Program

From Landsat-1 to 8, the Landsat program is the greatest archive of our planet

It’s a collaborative effort between NASA and USGS.

NASA is generally responsible for the launch.

Then, the US Geological Survey (USGS) is in charge of operating, receiving, and archiving the data.

References

2 Comments

  1. Hello. Many thanks for your very interesting and useful post. I have just one basic question. Why does Landsat CDR not appear as possible choices in the list on Earth Explorer?

    Thanks in advance

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