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February 12, 2013

NASA Launches New Satellite to Monitor Environmental Change

By Jody Ray Bennett, TMCnet Contributing Writer

NASA continues its decades-old Earth monitoring program with the launch of a new satellite on February 11, reports.

The Landsat satellite will be brought up to space via an Atlas 5 rocket. The launch is scheduled to take place on 10:02 a.m. PST at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The new craft will keep an eye on environmental changes all around Earth, including changes in forest cover, farmland and spreading urbanization.

The first Landsat satellite, Landsat 1, was launched in July 1972. This most recent spacecraft, the Landsat 8, is run by both NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey. Landsat 7 is the only other functional satellite left in the program; it was launched in April 1999.

The $855-million Landsat 8 will stay 438 miles above the ground. With its two instruments, the Operational Land Imager and the Thermal Infrared Sensor, it will observe and collect data in the visible, near infrared and shortwave infrared light wavelengths, as well as surface temperatures.

The data will help understand man’s affect on the planet, allowing policymakers and scientists to make more informed decisions.

“All of these changes are currently occurring at rates unprecedented in human history, due to an increasing population, advancing technology and climate change,” said Jim Irons, mission scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We will be able to monitor these changes—to continue to observe these changes—from [Landsat 8], from the best Landsat satellite ever launched.”

Landsat 7 is capable of remaining functional through 2016. Landsat 8’s instruments are designed to last three and five years. It also has enough fuel to stay in orbit for at least 10 years.

“We hope that the spacecraft and the instruments will last well beyond their design lives, and we can continue to collect data for at least 10 years,” Irons said.

Edited by Braden Becker

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