Landsat 8, launched on February 11, 2013, has a 5-year design life, 10 years of fuel, and no assured successor. A successor mission has been under discussion in the U.S. executive and congressional branches, but their deliberations have not yet been made public. Moreover, the potential sharing of responsibilities with commercial and foreign contributors has not been articulated. The cost for Landsat 8 runs to approximately $1 billion. Although a budget to start planning the next Landsat mission has been provided to NASA in the fiscal year 2014 budget request, replacing Landsat 8 with a mission of similar scope will not be possible within the currently planned budget, unless it is a mission with a reduced set of requirements. Several of the Landsat satellites have been justified, planned, and executed separately, and the 40-year record owes more to the remarkable survival of Landsat 5 for two decades beyond its design life than to careful planning.3 Given this history and uncertainties about the future of the Landsat series of satellites, the committee, as a result of its activities over the course of the study, arrived at the following findings:

• The United States pioneered global, synoptic, frequent-repeat global imaging. Other nations are now developing systems whose capability rivals or exceeds that of U.S. systems. National needs require the United States to reassert leadership and maintain and expand capabilities.

• Space-based land imaging is essential to U.S. national security as it is a critical resource for ensuring our food, energy, health, environmental, and economic interests.

• The economic and scientific benefits to the United States of Landsat imagery far exceed the investment in the system.

• To best serve the needs of the United States, the land imaging program of the future requires an overarching national strategy and long-term commitment, including clearly defined program requirements, management responsibilities, and funding.

• The continuity of Landsat imagery has never been ensured through the development of a sustained government program. Instead, responsibility has been shifted from one organization to another over Landsat’s 40-year history, resulting in persistent uncertainty for the future of this important asset.

• NASA has demonstrated that it is the civil agency with the technical capacity and the congressional support to design and build civilian space missions.

• The USGS-operated data management and distribution systems function effectively and efficiently.

• Building a satellite sequence with new requirements and technologies for each individual instrument is an expensive way to acquire land imaging data and inhibits the addition of new capabilities.

• A sustained land imaging program will not be viable under the current mission development and management practices.

The committee’s primary recommendation is that the U.S. government should establish a Sustained and Enhanced Land Imaging Program with persistent funding to respond to current and future national needs. Such a program would

• Develop a plan for a comprehensive, integrated program that capitalizes on the strengths of USGS and NASA, maintains current capability and the existing archive, and enhances the program as technology enables new imaging capabilities and data products;

• Ensure acquisition of land imaging data continuously from orbital platforms and, periodically, from airborne platforms, to respond to the needs of producers and consumers of derived data products along with users who analyze imagery;

• Establish partnerships with commercial firms and international land imaging programs to leverage enhanced capabilities;

• Coordinate land imaging data buys across the U.S. government; and


3 Discussion of the history of the Landsat series of satellites is included in Chapter 1 in the section “A Chaotic History.”

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