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 50 years back in time through the Landsat Program!

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

A Timeline of the Landsat Program

There have been 9 Landsat satellites. One of them didn’t make it in orbit. But the other eight satellites did.

Landsat 9 is the most recent mission, which was launched in September, 2021.

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 9, all Landsat imagery is openly available through the USGS Earth Explorer. Today, let’s go on a journey of the Landsat program.

Landsat Timeline

Landsat 1

Landsat file

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 DateJuly 23, 1972
Deactivation DateJanuary 6, 1978
Sensor 1Return Beam Vidicon (RBV)
Sensor 2Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution80 m
Scene Size170 km x 185 km
Launch BaseVandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 2

Landsat-2

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 the 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 DateJanuary 22, 1975
Deactivation DateFebruary 25, 1982
Sensor 1Return Beam Vidicon (RBV)
Sensor 2Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution40m, 80m
Scene Size170 km x 185 km
Launch BaseVandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 3

Landsat-3

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 DateMarch 5, 1978
Deactivation DateMarch 31, 1983
Sensor 1Return Beam Vidicon (RBV)
Sensor 2Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution40m, 80m
Scene Size170 km x 185 km
Launch BaseVandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 4

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 DateJuly 16, 1982
Deactivation DateDecember 14, 1993
Sensor 1Thematic Mapper (TM)
Sensor 2Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution30m, 120m
BandsBlue, Green, Red, NIR1, NIR2, MIR, Thermal
Launch BaseVandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 5

Landsat-5

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 DateMarch 1, 1984
Deactivation DateJune 5, 2013
Sensor 1Thematic Mapper (TM)
Sensor 2Multispectral Scanner System (MSS)
Resolution30m, 120m
BandsBlue, Green, Red, NIR1, NIR2, MIR, Thermal
Launch BaseVandenberg 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

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 DateApril 15, 1999
StatusRemains in orbit
SensorEnhanced Thematic Mapper (ETM+)
Resolution15m, 30m and 60m
BandsBlue, Green, Red, NIR-1, SWIR-1, SWIR-2, Thermal, Panchromatic
Launch BaseVandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 8

Landsat

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 a 15m resolution, TIRS is 100m pixel size.

Launch DateFebruary 11, 2013
StatusRemains in orbit
Sensor 1Operational Land Imager (OLI)
Sensor 2Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS)
Resolution15m, 30m and 100m
BandsCoastal, Blue, Green, Red, NIR1, SWIR-1, SWIR-2, Cirrus, Panchromatic, TIR-1, TIR-2
Launch BaseVandenberg Air Force Base

Landsat 9

Landsat 9 was successfully fast-tracked and launched in September, 2021 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. This satellite fully replaces the faulty Landsat 7, extending the lifeline of the Landsat program.

Landsat 9 is almost a duplication of the design of Landsat 8 with the exception of the thermal sensor, which will be upgraded to TIRS-2. These two optical sensors will detect 11 total spectral bands of visible, near-infrared, shortwave infrared, and thermal infrared light.

Launch DateSeptember, 2021
Sensor 1Operational Land Imager 2 (OLI-2)
Sensor 2Thermal Infrared Sensor 2 (TIRS-2)
Resolution15m, 30m and 100m
BandsCoastal, Blue, Green, Red, NIR1, SWIR-1, SWIR-2, Cirrus, Panchromatic, TIR-1, TIR-2
Launch BaseVandenberg Air Force Base

Applications

Here are some use cases and applications where Landsat imagery is put into use to its full potential. It spans various different industries ranging from agriculture to the environment.

Agriculture

Crop Conditions

From monitoring the food supply chain to doing detective work for fraudulent crop insurance claims, NASA keeps a watchful eye on our planet. Healthy vegetation reflects green and near-infrared light but absorbs red and blue light. By using the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from Landsat, we can monitor chlorophyll created by plants during photosynthesis. This gives us a big picture for quantifying crop conditions in agriculture.

Environment

Human Change

The Landsat Program is the longest-running Earth observation mission in our history. Its digital records date back to the 1970s. If we want to understand our changing landscape, the Landsat missions give us a snapshot back in time. It helps learn from the past for future generations. Everything from oil spills, deforestation, and urban development – Landsat has seen it all. For example, this Landsat Explorer app shows everything from change detection to the various band combinations.

Forestry

Rainforest Cutting

Billions of people rely on forests for their livelihood. But deforestation is occurring at a high rate putting the lives of people in jeopardy. Landsat continuously monitors illegal rainforest cutting from mining, agriculture, and logging companies. It’s not only deforestation, but Landsat assesses disease, wildfires, and forest degradation. Each of these can have catastrophic effects on ecosystem health and local economies.

Water resources

Oil Spill Detection

For water, it’s all about keeping it clean and absent of harmful nutrients. It turns out you can learn a lot about a lake’s health through satellite imagery. For example, Landsat studies algae which is an indicator of the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous being fed into the lake. Also, satellites can delineate the search for oil spills and identify the direction and rate of movement.

Earth As Art

Earth as Art

Some of the most breathtaking views are from space. Evidence of this is in NASA’s 75 page collection of Earth images (NASA’s Earth as Art) seen from space. The collection of Earth observation images was taken from the Terra, Landsat, EO-1, and Aqua satellites. In this Earth art masterpiece, you can find some of the most intriguing patterns and geometry of our oceans, atmosphere, and land features.

READ MORE: 100 Earth Shattering Remote Sensing Applications & Uses

The Incredible Landsat Program

From Landsat-1 to 9, the Landsat program is the greatest archive on 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.

Landsat Data Continuity Mission

References

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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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