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US government strives to lower Landsat costs

San Francisco, US: The US government agencies are working together to look for ways to reduce the cost of future Landsat missions as a result of congressional direction included in the 2012 budget passed in December, Space News reported.
“Although Congress has provided USD 2 million to the US Geological Service (USGS) for Landsat 9 programme development, they have also requested that the administration re-examine how to proceed with future Landsat missions,” Jon Campbell, spokesman for the Interior Department’s USGS, said. “Accordingly, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Office of Management and Budget, USGS, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have formed a team to look at all possible options for Landsat missions, addressing performance, cost and risk.”
US President Barack Obama requested USD 48 million for USGS to pave the way for development of Landsat 9 and Landsat 10, spacecraft designed to extend the Landsat programme’s 40-year record of providing moderate-resolution imagery on global agriculture, land use and natural disasters.
Congressional appropriators balked at that request, however, citing the high cost of Landsat spacecraft. Instead, they allocated USD 2 million for Landsat “programme development only” and suggested that administration officials seek “less costly options for obtaining Landsat data,” according to the conference report attached to the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act that Obama signed into law December 23, 2011.
“The conferees have not agreed to transfer budgetary authority for the launch of Landsat satellites 9 and 10 from” NASA to USGS, the report said. Noting that the overall costs of developing and operating Landsat spacecraft in addition to maintaining the extensive Landsat data archive are expected to exceed USD 400 million by 2014, the conferees said, “There is little doubt that resources will not be available within the Interior Appropriations bill to support these very large increases without decimating all other [USGS] programmes.”
Since Landsat 9 is scheduled for launch in 2018, all agencies involved in the Landsat effort have time to “re-examine how to proceed with future Landsat missions,” the conference report added.
With the 2012 budget, the Obama administration sought to consolidate Landsat’s management and budgetary authority within USGS by creating the National Land Imaging Program. The administration requested a total of USD 99.8 million for the first year of the National Land Imaging Program to establish the organisation, pay for ongoing Landsat operations, prepare ground systems to obtain data from the Landsat Data Continuity Mission scheduled for launch in early 2013, and plan for Landsat 9 and Landsat 10.
Although Congress approved only USD 2 million of the USD 48 million requested for Landsat 9 and the new organisation, that funding is welcome because it marks the first time Congress has allocated any money for a Landsat spacecraft beyond the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, said Curtis Woodcock, team leader for the USGS Landsat Science Team and a Boston University professor. “Two million dollars is not enough to start building Landsat 9, but it is enough to draft requirements and make recommendations,” Woodcock said.
Source: www.spacenews.com