Adding to a collection that began five decades ago, the newest Landsat 9 spacecraft has delivered its first images of Earth from space.
The Earth-observing satellite lifted off Sept. 27 aboard the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that blasted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base near Lompoc.
In addition to launching from the Central Coast, the satellite built by Northrop Grumman also sported a solar array crafted at that firm’s Goleta facility.
Landsat 9 was the latest in the series of satellites for the joint program involving NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, with the first occurring in 1972. All nine Landsat missions headed to space from Vandenberg.
“Landsat 9’s first images capture critical observations about our changing planet and will advance this joint mission of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey that provides critical data about Earth’s landscapes and coastlines seen from space,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “This program has the proven power to not only improve lives but also save lives.
“NASA will continue to work with USGS to strengthen and improve accessibility to Landsat data so decision-makers in America — and around the world — better understand the devastation of the climate crisis, manage agricultural practices, preserve precious resources and respond more effectively to natural disasters.”
Images depict various locales around the globe, including Detroit, Michigan, with neighboring Lake St. Clair, a changing Florida coastline and Navajo Nation in Arizona to help monitor crop health and manage irrigation water.
The new images also provide data about the changing landscapes of the Himalayas in High Mountain Asia and the coastal islands and shorelines of Northern Australia.
“First light is a big milestone for Landsat users. It’s the first chance to really see the kind of quality that Landsat 9 provides. And they look fantastic,” said Jeff Masek, NASA’s Landsat 9 project scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center. “When we have Landsat 9 operating in coordination with Landsat 8, it’s going to be this wealth of data, allowing us to monitor changes to our home planet every eight days.”
Landsat 9 carries two instruments that capture imagery: the Operational Land Imager 2 (OLI-2) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2 (TIRS-2) to give users key information about crop health, irrigation use, water quality, wildfire severity, deforestation, glacial retreat, urban growth and more.
The Landsat 9 team is conducting a 100-day checkout period that involves testing the satellite’s systems and calibrating its instruments in preparation for handing the mission over to USGS in January. USGS will operate Landsat 9 along with Landsat 8, and together the two satellites will collect about 1,500 images of Earth’s surface every day, covering the globe every eight days.
Once officials declare Landsat 9 operational, the data will be available to the public, for free, from the USGS website.
The launch of Landsat 9 was one of two high-profile NASA missions from the West Coast this fall, with the second being the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, to deflect an asteroid off its path.
DART launched Nov. 27 aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket and will rendezvous with the asteroid in late September or early October.