US: NASA”s Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) roared into space at 1:02 p.m. EST (10:02 a.m. PST) on Monday aboard an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The LDCM spacecraft separated from the rocket 79 minutes after launch and the first signal was received 3 minutes later at a ground station in Svalbard, Norway. The solar arrays deployed 86 minutes after launch, and the spacecraft is generating power from them. LDCM is on course to reach its operational, sun-synchronous, polar orbit 438 miles (705 kilometers) above earth within two months.
“Landsat is a centerpiece of NASA”s Earth Science program, and the successful launch will extend the longest continuous data record of earth”s surface as seen from space,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “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 — all resulting in incalculable benefits to the US and world economy.”
LDCM will go through a check-out phase for the next three months. Afterward, operational control will be transferred to NASA”s mission partner, the Department of the Interior”s US Geological Survey (USGS), and the satellite will be renamed Landsat 8. Data will be archived and distributed free over the Internet from the Earth Resources and Science (EROS) centre in Sioux Falls, S.D. Distribution of Landsat 8 data from the USGS archive is expected to begin within 100 days of launch.
LDCM is the eighth in the Landsat series of satellites that have been continuously observing earth”s land surfaces since 1972.
“Landsat has been delivering invaluable scientific information about our planet for more than forty years,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. “It”s an honour to be a part of the launch to ensure this critical data will continue to help us better understand our natural resources and help people like water managers, farmers, and resource managers make informed decisions.”
LDCM continues that legacy with more and better observations. The spacecraft carries two instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS). The measurements will be compatible with data from past Landsat satellites, but the LDCM instruments use advanced technology to improve reliability, sensitivity, and data quality.