Since 1972, the Landsat program has tracked changes in land cover and land use around the globe. Six successive satellites have compiled a four-decade record of growing cities and farms, shrinking lakes and ice sheets, greening and browning landscapes, and human and natural events.
On February 11, 2013, that global record of our land surface was extended for many more years to come. At 1:02 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (10:02 a.m. Pacific Standard Time), an Atlas V rocket successfully carried the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) satellite into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The LDCM spacecraft separated from the rocket 79 minutes after launch and the first signal was received 3 minutes later at a ground station in Svalbard, Norway. (Click here for video of the separation.) The solar arrays deployed 86 minutes after launch, and the spacecraft is already generating power. LDCM is on course to reach a sun-synchronous polar orbit of 438 miles (705 kilometers) above Earth by April 2013.
The new satellite has two main sensors: the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS). OLI will collect images using nine spectral bands—in different wavelengths of visible, near-infrared, and shortwave light—to observe a 185-kilometer (115-mile) section of the Earth in 30-meter resolution. It will take measurements in two new bands: one to observe high-altitude cirrus clouds and another to observe atmospheric aerosols, as well as water quality in lakes and shallow coastal waters.