White House OSTP-led committee studying future of Landsat imagery

White House OSTP-led committee studying future of Landsat imagery

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USA, 17 September 2006 – The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is leading an interagency committee charged with making recommendations on securing the future of satellite imagery of the Earth, such as that which has been provided by the Landsat series of spacecraft.

The committee plans to propose the establishment of a National Land Imaging program, most likely to be led by the Department of the Interior, which would provide focused federal leadership for land imaging. NASA still would design and procure the satellites on a reimbursable basis.

In a December 2005 memo, White House Science Adviser John Marburger charged OSTP’s National Science & Technology Council with developing recommendations for what should happen after the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), which is scheduled to launch a replacement for the ailing Landsat 7 spacecraft by 2011.

According to committee chair Gene Whitney, science policy analyst at OSTP, there is currently no government plan for gathering 5-120 meter resolution land imagery after LDCM. Historically, Landsat planning and management has been largely ad hoc, Whitney said, with inputs coming from the Agriculture Department, NASA, USGS, NOAA and others.

The committee began its work this past February and is scheduled to deliver its final recommendations in February 2007. It includes participation from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Defense Department, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA.

The committee quickly concluded that the U.S. needs to maintain frequent remote sensing coverage of the entire land surface of the Earth, Whitney said Sept. 15 at the Commercial Remote Sensing Satellite Symposium in Washington. The committee believes that any future system should be backward compatible with Landsat data, which goes back more than 30 years.

Options to be considered after LDCM include developing a new government-owned replacement satellite system, a public-private partnership, an international partnership, a commercial program, or a combination of these options, according to Whitney.

Whitney’s group is likely to recommend a combination of options, with the U.S. maintaining a minimum “core capability” of government-owned land imaging spacecraft. However, “we’re not determined that the U.S. own satellites,” he said. “We’re interested in the data.” The group may or may not make recommendations about pricing policy for Landsat data, Whitney said, but they are considering proposing that the data be distributed for free. LDCM, meanwhile, has run into a potential snag in the Senate, where appropriators unhappy with NASA’s proposed acquisition strategy have voted to cut all funding for the program in fiscal 2007.