Science

NASA Launches Powerful Landsat 9 Satellite To Monitor Climate Change, Forest Cover And More

NASA’s newest Earth observation satellite has reached space.

The spacecraft, called Landsat 9, will help extend the 50-year continuous record of global imagery collected by the Landsat family of satellites since 1972.

Perched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket, Landsat 9 lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California just in time at 2:12 p.m. EDT (11:12 local time 1812 GMT) today (27 September), marking the installation’s 2,000th launch since 1958. The spacecraft separated from its rocket trip as planned, about 80 minutes after liftoff.

Meteorologists in the 30th space delta predicted favorable liftoff conditions, and Mother Nature didn’t disappoint, though Atlas V quickly disappeared into a thick, darkening marine layer, a common feature of the central California coast at this time of year. .

Today’s release was originally scheduled for September 16. However, it was delayed for a week due to high demand for liquid oxygen to help treat COVID-19 patients. The company delivering the necessary liquid nitrogen to Vandenberg was once again charged with transporting more medical liquid oxygen, affecting the Landsat 9 launch schedule, NASA officials said. Weather concerns delayed the launch for a few more days.

In photos: images of Earth from space: the legacy of the Landsat satellite

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite is launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on September 27, 2021.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite is launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on September 27, 2021. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Landsat 9

NASA was in charge of building and launching Landsat 9, although the United States Geological Survey will operate the satellite and process its data.

The mission, which costs about $ 750 million, is the ninth in the Landsat program and will continue the program’s function of monitoring and managing the earth’s resources. Landsat 9 will replace the old Landsat 7 satellite, which has been in orbit since 1999, and will work in conjunction with Landsat 8, which launched in 2013. Together, the duo will image the entire Earth every eight days.

Landsat 9 will eventually settle into an orbit that will take it over the planet’s poles, at an altitude of about 438 miles (705 kilometers). The satellite carries two scientific instruments, the Operational Land Imager 2 (OLI-2) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2 (TIRS-2), which can detect minimal changes in the world’s lakes, rivers and forests by analyzing reflected light. of the planet in multiple wavelengths.

According to mission scientists, Landsat is the Earth science program with the greatest economic impact. Landsat 8 and Landsat 9, working together, will help track urban sprawl, forest cover, and glacier retreat, among other features and phenomena.

“Landsat tells us about Earth’s vegetation, land use, coastlines, and surface water, just to name a few,” said Karen St. Germain, chief of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division, in a pre-launch briefing. “When combined with other science missions on Earth, that can tell us what is happening and also why.”

“We’ve put together an amazing story of how the planet has changed over the past half century,” added Jeff Masek, NASA Landsat 9 project scientist.

“For example, we can see the natural disturbances that occur, (like) fires, hurricanes and insect outbreaks, and then the long-term recovery of ecosystems that takes place for decades after that,” Masek said.

The Landsat family of satellites has been imaging the world since 1972, providing researchers around the world with a continuous data record of the planet’s ecosystems.

The data was released in 2008 and is an invaluable resource for monitoring climate change.

“We can specifically look at the climate and the impacts of climate change on ecosystems,” Malek said. “We have mapped areas of increased vegetation cover in high latitudes due to a warmer climate. We have also seen areas of vegetation in decline in semi-arid water-scarce environments.”

Related: Earth is hotter than ever. So what happens next?

Mighty Atlas V

Today’s launch marked Flight 145 of an Atlas V to date and Flight 88 of NASA’s rocket. In August, ULA announced that it only had 29 Atlas V rockets left in its fleet and that all of those launch vehicles already had confirmed missions.

The Atlas V flew today in its simplest configuration: the 401. That means the Landsat 9 satellite was tucked into a 13-foot-wide (4-meter) payload fairing, and the rocket relied on a single-engine Centaur upper stage, without solid rocket propellants, to propel it into space.

Along with Landsat 9 for today’s trip were four tiny cubesats, which will deploy from the launcher after Landsat 9 has been deposited in space. They will conduct a variety of scientific investigations, including taking measurements of the solar wind and ultraviolet light emanating from stars.

Next up for Atlas V is the launch of another key science mission. On October 16, the Lucy spacecraft will lift off on a different Atlas V rocket, bound for the asteroid belt, where it will study various Trojan asteroids to help scientists better understand how planets form.

Originally, Lucy’s rocket ride was supposed to transport Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft into space in August. However, Starliner was forced to return to the factory after several valves in its propulsion system closed. The valve problem has significantly delayed the capsule’s unmanned test flight to the International Space Station, perhaps until next year.

The ULA teams had to reconfigure the rocket so that it was ready to fly with Lucy next month. That’s because Lucy will rely on a single Centaur engine, while Starliner requires a twin-engine Centaur upper stage.

There is one more Atlas V rocket scheduled to fly from Vandenberg: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Joint Polar Satellite System 2 satellite is scheduled to launch next September.

ULA is working on the debut of its next rocket, the Vulcan Centaur. Designed to replace the Atlas V, Vulcan is scheduled to come online sometime in 2022.

Record mission

Today’s flight marked the 2,000th launch from Vandenberg since 1958. It was the 300th launch of the Atlas, which includes all versions of the vehicle, not just the Atlas V.

That first launch, which took place on December 16, 1958, carried a Thor missile, followed by a Thor / Agena in 1959 that launched Discover 1, the first polar satellite in Earth orbit.

Vandenberg is used primarily for polar launches targeting highly inclined orbits. These orbits are perfect for most Earth observation satellites, as well as some communications missions.

Following the final launch of West Coast Atlas V next year, ULA will reconfigure its Vandenberg launch pad (SLC-3E) for its upcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 3:35 pm EDT (1935 GMT) with news of the successful Landsat 9 deployment.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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