TABLE 5.1 Cost of Landsats 1 Through 8, Adjusted to 2012 Dollars

Launch Design Life (years) Lifetime (years) Original Cost ($ million) 2012 Cost ($ million)
Landsat 1 1972 1 5.5 $197 together with Landsat 2a $840
Landsat 2 1975 1 6.0 $197 together with Landsat 1a $840
Landsat 3 1978 1 5.1 $50b $160
Landsat 4 1982 3 11.4 $538c $1,280
Landsat 5 1984 3 27.7 $573d $1,270
Landsat 6 1993 5 0.0 $518e $820
Landsat 7 1999 5 13.8 $800f $1,100
Landsat 8 2013 5   $931g $930

NOTE: 2012 costs calculated from, using year-by-year consumer price indices.

a See NASA ERTS-B Press Kit (NASA News Release 74-329), January 14, 1975, see This value includes research and development and the launch vehicles for both Landsat 1 and Landsat 2.

b See Landsat Policy Issues Still Unresolved: Report by the Comptroller General to the Congress of the United States, 1978, products/PSAD-78-58.

c See

d See

e See

f See

g See

SOURCE: Originally compiled by Tony Morse, Spatial Analysis Group, LLC, from the identified sources.


Several of the Landsat satellites have been acquired in a very expensive way. Particularly in the case of Landsat 7 and Landsat 8, each satellite included substantial new technology, was designed afresh, was acquired one at a time using cost-plus contracts, and was managed with a philosophy of over-engineering to minimize perceived risk, with the well-intended objective of improving the chances of mission success.

An acquisition model for a cost-constrained world is quite different. Rather than acquiring satellites one-off, this model makes block buys. Purchasing multiple spacecraft at once would reduce nonrecurring engineering costs and permit the advance purchase of parts, thus reducing their cost and improving availability later in the program’s life cycle. Additionally, a block-buy model would potentially enable the provision of spare spacecraft, either stored on the ground or in orbit (where the risky launch phase has been passed), which would make the program much more immune to unexpected failures. A long-term commitment would also result in the development and continuity of institutional memory in both the government agencies and aerospace contractors. This approach would be very similar to the model used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for the provision of satellite observations to the National Weather Service for weather and severe storm forecasting.

Coupling the block-buy approach with a fixed-price contracting approach could reduce costs further. However, for a fixed-price contracting approach to be fully successful, the requirements must be well known and unlikely to be changed—for example, where the system being acquired is a copy of one that has already flown. And, after contract award, the government would need to minimize the number of contract change orders—ideally, to zero.

In the block-buy model, large-scale technological changes come with each new block, not within the block. In this regard, it is essential to only incorporate new technologies that do not compromise core operational capabilities. This could readily be done by leveraging industry, international, and/or other agency technology development activities. Additionally, each satellite in a block could accommodate a secondary instrument with a well-defined interface, on a noninterference basis, which would preserve the commonality between elements of the block while still allowing for modest, incremental technological insertion.

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