Home Blogs The future of Landsat — what are we looking for?

The future of Landsat — what are we looking for?

Recently my attention was drawn to an item: Sustainable Land Imaging (SLI) Program Beyond Landsat 9 Architecture Study, published on the US government website. This sounded like a crowd-sourcing attempt to decide on the future of Landsat wherein NASA and USGS have released a request for information (RFI) on the future of the Landsat program. Intrigued, a visit to the URL yielded the following:

  • Initial concepts for space system architectures, including evolutionary instrument or system architecture capabilities that enhance temporal frequency, spectral coverage and resolution, and/or spatial resolution while constraining system costs;
  • Ideas for international partnerships, public-private partnerships, and/or commercial image provision to satisfy some or all Landsat requirements;
  • Innovative approaches to the Landsat ground system, including mission flight operations, evolution of Landsat storage, data processing and production, and use of Cloud computing and on-demand generation of science data products.

This appears to be much more than just a crowd-sourcing of user interests. The first bullet lays open the area of sensor and system design. Should it be one satellite or a constellation? How would this link to future space stations? What new sensors could be thought of? Spectral coverage and resolution hints at the possibility of operational hyper spectral sensors. Variable resolution is not new to Landsat and it seems this would continue.

future of landsat
Landsat 8 view of the Los Angeles area, May 13th, 2013. The image is rotated so north is up. All image data courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The second bullet looks like a clone of Radiant Earth is also a possibility if you consider the phrase “and/or commercial image provision to satisfy some or all Landsat requirements”. May be NASA would like Landsat to play a complementary role to Sentinel. Or may be Landsat would not be a satellite but a fleet integrating different satellite services into a common platform much like Intelsat’s Horizon. Or would they be looking at Landsat not just as a series of satellites but a consortium of Satellite data providers which can offer a vast range of sensors from optical to radar. Will they join Sentinel of ESA?

Clearly Landsat is not being looked as just satellites but a system to provide solutions. May be these would be Cloud based and provide users with the best data ensemble for their intended applications. This, by the way, is not new. Oil and gas companies regularly by such data ensembles and use them with their own data and proprietary data analytics. This is also happening in the space communications where the user is connected to a gateway which services their satellite communication requirements using different satellites, thus relieving users of the botheration of going from satellite to satellite.

In the process, given US President Donald J. Trump’s policies, Landsat might well reverse its free data policy and join the commercial bandwagon. This will be highly detrimental to the scientific community which has taken to free Landsat and Sentinel data in a big way.

Just a few initial thoughts.

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