Landsat 9 and the Future of the Sustainable Land Imaging Program

Landsat 9 and the Future of the Sustainable
October 5, 2020
Land Imaging Program
Anna E. Normand
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) anticipates launching Landsat 9, a
Analyst in Natural
remote sensing satellite NASA is developing in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey
Resources Policy
(USGS), in 2021. Landsat satellites have collected remotely sensed imagery of the Earth’s

surface at moderate spatial resolution since the launch of Landsat 1 on July 23, 1972. The two
latest satellites in the series, Landsat 7 and Landsat 8, are still in orbit and supplying images and

data. Stakeholders use Landsat data in a variety of applications, including land use planning,
agriculture, forestry, natural resources management, public safety, homeland security, climate research, and natural disaster
management. Landsat data support government, commercial, industrial, civilian, military, and educational users throughout
the United States and worldwide. Landsat 7, however, is expected to consume its remaining fuel by summer 2021. To reduce
the risk of a gap in Landsat data availability, Landsat 9 development was initiated in March 2015, with a design that is
essentially a rebuild of Landsat 8. Once Landsat 9 is operational, it and Landsat 8 will acquire around 1,500 high-quality
images of the Earth per day, with a repeat visit every eight days, on average.
Various entities have led the Landsat program over the past five decades. It was initiated as a research program under NASA.
In the 1980s, the executive branch proposed and Congress approved policies to privatize Landsat under the leadership of the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a commercial entity, the Earth Observat ion Satellite
Company (EOSAT). The attempted privatization ended with the passage of the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992
(P.L. 102-555), which returned responsibility for management of the Landsat program to the federal government. In 2016,
NASA and the Department of the Interior (DOI, the department overseeing the USGS) entered into an interagency
agreement, redefining their long-term collaboration on Landsat through the Sustainable Land Imaging Program and outlining
responsibilities for Landsat 9. In this partnership, NASA develops the satellite and the instruments, launches the spacecraft,
and checks its performance. Then, the USGS takes over satellite operations and manages and distributes the data from the
Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Falls, SD. NASA Landsat activities are funded under the
Earth Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate, and USGS Landsat activities are funded under the National Land
Imaging Program in the Land Resources Mission Area. As of FY2020, NASA has spent $517 million on its responsibilities
for developing and launching Landsat 9, out of an overall life-cycle cost commitment of $885 million, and the USGS has
spent approximately $120 million on Landsat 9 for ground system development.
Under a policy initiated in 2008, all Landsat data in USGS archives are available for download free and without restrictions.
Every year, the USGS distributes millions of Landsat images to thousands of users. On March 11, 2020, a Landsat 8 image of
New Zealand’s North Island became the 100 millionth download from the USGS’s user interface tools. Landsat data also are
used for commercial applications and in derived products, such as Google Earth, which themselves have millions of users.
Researchers estimate that Landsat imagery provided domestic and international users $3.45 billion in benefits in 2017 ($4.18
billion when including cloud vendors), with U.S. users accounting for $2.06 billion of those benefits. Because of Landsat’s
length of record, availability of data, global coverage, and calibration standards, it serves as the central reference comparison
point for many other moderate- and high-resolution optical satellite systems operated by governments and commercial
entities. Landsat also has influenced the development of other Earth remote sensing satellites by governments (e.g., the
European Space Agency’s Copernicus Program Sentinel-2 satellite constellation) and the private sector.
With the pending launch of Landsat 9, Congress may wish to consider the future of the Sustainable Land Imaging Program.
A future moderate-resolution mission could differ from previous Landsat satellites by adopting a smaller satellite design,
increasing image resolution, increasing the number of images captured per day, reducing the time between images of a given
location, sensing a wider variety of optical and infrared frequencies, or making other design changes. Alternative
arrangements could include obtaining images from other sources, such as through public-private partnerships or by procuring
data from other satellites. Reports from stakeholders such as the Landsat Advisory Group and the National Academies of
Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have discussed such options and their tradeoffs. A joint NASA-USGS Sustainable Land
Imaging Architecture Study has developed options for the follow-on to Landsat 9, known as Landsat Next, and the agencies
anticipate sharing information about Landsat Next in the President’s FY2022 budget request. Whether Congress supports the
agencies’ plans for Landsat Next or prefers some alternative, it may consider shaping the Sustainable Land Imaging Program
and Landsat Next development through oversight activities, authorizing legislation (such as amendments to the Land Remote
Sensing Policy Act of 1992), and appropriations bills and report language.
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Contents
Introduction ................................................................................................................... 1
Landsat and the Sustainable Land Imaging Program ............................................................. 2
Agency Responsibilities and Budgets ........................................................................... 3
NASA ................................................................................................................ 4
U.S. Geological Survey ......................................................................................... 4

Landsat Satel ites and Instruments................................................................................ 6
Use of Landsat Data................................................................................................... 9
Increased Data Availability and Use Under Changing Policies ................................... 11
Landsat After Landsat 9 ................................................................................................. 14
Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture Study .............................................................. 14
The White House National Plan for Civil Earth Observations ......................................... 16
Reports by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine..................... 16
National Geospatial Advisory Committee’s Landsat Advisory Group............................... 17
Congressional Deliberation ....................................................................................... 19

Figures
Figure 1. Timeline of Landsat Satel ites .............................................................................. 7
Figure 2. Landsat 8 Images Showing the Effects of Flooding from Dam Failures ...................... 8
Figure 3. Rendering of the Landsat 9 Design ....................................................................... 9
Figure 4. Primary Uses of Landsat Data............................................................................ 10
Figure 5. Cumulative Landsat Image Downloads from USGS Inventory Since the 2008
Data Policy ............................................................................................................... 13

Figure B-1. Landsat Global Archive Consolidation Images .................................................. 26
Figure B-2. Comparison of Landsat 7 and 8 Bands with Sentinel-2 Bands.............................. 27

Appendixes
Appendix A. Privatizing Landsat: A Brief History .............................................................. 21
Appendix B. International Collaboration........................................................................... 25

Contacts
Author Information ....................................................................................................... 28

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Landsat 9 and the Future of the Sustainable Land Imaging Program

Introduction
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) anticipates launching Landsat 9, a
remote sensing satel ite NASA is developing in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey
(USGS), in 2021.1 Landsat 9 wil be the latest in a series of Earth-observing satel ites that began
on July 23, 1972, with the launch of Earth Resources Technology Satel ite 1, now known as
Landsat 1.2 Stakeholders use Landsat data in a variety of applications, including land use
planning, agriculture, forestry, natural resources management, public safety, homeland security,
climate research, and natural disaster management.3 Landsat data support government,
commercial, industrial, civilian, military, and educational users throughout the United States and
worldwide. Once Landsat 9 is operational, it and Landsat 8 wil acquire approximately 1,500
high-quality images of the Earth per day, with a repeat visit every eight days, on average.4
For almost 50 years, Landsat satel ites have collected remotely sensed imagery of the Earth’s
surface at moderate spatial resolution, which refers to the amount of detail shown in the image or
the size of a pixel on the ground.5 At present, two satel ites—Landsat 7 and Landsat 8—are in
orbit and supplying images and data.6 Landsat 7, however, is expected to consume its remaining
fuel by summer 2021.
In 2016, NASA and the Department of the Interior (DOI), which oversees the USGS, entered into
an interagency agreement, redefining their long-term collaboration through the Sustainable Land
Imaging Program and outlining responsibilities for Landsat 9.7 Landsat 9 has a design very
similar to Landsat 8, in order to shorten the development time and reduce the risk of a Landsat
data gap when Landsat 7 ceases to operate. In the NASA-USGS partnership, NASA is developing
the satel ite and the instruments and wil launch the spacecraft and check its performance. Then,
the USGS wil take over satel ite operations and wil manage and distribute the data from the
Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Fal s, SD.8

1 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Landsat Missions, “Landsat 9,” accessed on August 10, 2020, at
https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-9.
2 USGS, Landsat Missions, “Landsat Satellite Missions,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-
satellite-missions.
3 Zhuoting Wu et al., “User Needs for Future Landsat Missions,” Remote Sensing of Environment, vol. 231 (September
15, 2019), p. 111214, at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2019.111214. Hereinafter Wu et al., “ User Needs.”
4 USGS, Landsat Missions, “Landsat 9,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-9.
5 Moderate-resolution land imaging satellites have a spatial resolution between 5 meters and 120 meters. Landsats 7, 8,
and 9 have spatial resolution in the optical range of 30 x 30 meters (about the size of a baseball diamond) and in the
thermal infrared range of 100 meters. T he 100 x 100 meter thermal infrared observations are resampled to 30 meters
during product generation. For a complete history of the Landsat program, see Sam N. Goward et al., Landsat’s
Enduring Legacy: Pioneering Global Land Observations from Space
(Bethesda, MD: American Society for
Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 2017). Hereinafter Goward et al., Landsat’s Enduring Legacy.
6 T he Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM, now called Landsat 8) initially was planned for launch in July 2011
and would have filled the data gap in Landsat coverage after the USGS stopped collecting data from Landsat 5. Due to
schedule delays, the LDCM was not placed in orbit until February 2013, when it was renamed Landsat 8. On May 30,
2013, data from Landsat 8 became available. USGS, Landsat Missions, “ Landsat Data Continuity Mission History,” at
https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-data-continuity-mission-history.
7 USGS, “ MOU - Sustainable Land Imaging Research, Development, and Operations,” September 27, 2016, at
https://www.usgs.gov/media/files/mou-sustainable-land-imaging-research-development -and-operations.
8 For more information on the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, see USGS, “ Earth
Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center,” at https://www.usgs.gov/centers/eros.
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Landsat 9 and the Future of the Sustainable Land Imaging Program

Beginning in 2008, the USGS began the process of making al Landsat data held in USGS
archives available for download at no charge and without restrictions.9 Every year, the USGS
distributes mil ions of these remotely sensed Landsat images to thousands of users. On March 11,
2020, a Landsat 8 image of New Zealand’s North Island became the 100 mil ionth download
from the USGS’s user interface tools.10 USGS researchers estimate that Landsat imagery
provided domestic and international users $3.45 bil ion in benefits in 2017, with U.S. users
accounting for $2.06 bil ion of those benefits.11 The Landsat program’s policies and technologies
also have inspired international governmental satel ites, such as the European Space Agency’s
(ESA’s) Copernicus Program Sentinel-2 satel ite constel ation and a new generation of
commercial satel ites with Landsat-like characteristics.12
With the pending launch of Landsat 9, Congress may wish to consider the future of the
Sustainable Land Imaging Program. After completing a Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture
Study initiated in 2018, NASA and the USGS are developing details and options for the follow -
on to Landsat 9, known as Landsat Next. They anticipate sharing information about Landsat Next
in the President’s FY2022 budget request.13
This report describes the Sustainable Land Imaging Program, Landsat satel ite instrumentation,
uses of Landsat data, and aspects of Landsat’s history. The report also discusses potential
alternatives to the current Landsat satel ite system and Sustainable Land Imaging Program, as
wel as possible tradeoffs among those alternatives.
Landsat and the Sustainable Land Imaging Program
Over the more than 50 years of Landsat planning and operations, various entities have led Landsat
mission acquisition (i.e., planning, financing, building, prelaunch activity) and operations (i.e.,
management and data activities).14 After initiating Landsat as a research program under NASA,
the Carter and Reagan Administrations proposed and Congress approved policies in the 1980s to
privatize Landsat under the leadership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) and a commercial entity, the Earth Observation Satel ite Company (EOSAT).15 The
attempt at privatizing the Landsat system ended with the passage of Land Remote Sensing Policy
Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-555), which returned responsibility for management of the Landsat

9 USGS, Landsat Missions, “Imagery for Everyone, T imeline Set to Release Entire USGS Landsat Archive at No
Charge,” April 2008, at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/imagery-everyone.
10 USGS, “ A Landsat Milestone: One Hundred Million Downloads,” at https://www.usgs.gov/center-news/a-landsat-
milestone-one-hundred-million-downloads.
11 Christa L. Straub, Stephen R. Koontz, and John B. Loomis, Economic Valuation of Landsat Imagery, U.S.
Geological Survey Open-File Report 2019–1112, 2019, at https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20191112. Hereinafter USGS,
Econom ic Valuation of Landsat Im agery.
12 For an overview of government and commercial land remote sensing satellites, see Jon B. Christopherson, Shankar
N. Ramaseri Chandra, and Joel Q. Quanbeck , 2019 Joint Agency Com m ercial Im agery Evaluation—Land Remote
Sensing Satellite Com pendium
, USGS Circular 1455, 2019, at https://doi.org/10.3133/cir1455. National Geospatial
Advisory Committee (NGAC), Landsat Advisory Group (LAG), Recom m endations for Possible Future U.S. Global
Land Data Collection Missions Beyond Landsat 9
, April 2018, at https://www.fgdc.gov/ngac/meetings/april-2018/
ngac-landsat -future-missions-recommendations-paper.pdf. Hereinafter LAG, Recom m endations Beyond Landsat 9.
13 Personal correspondence between CRS and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in July 2020
and between CRS and the USGS in July 2020.
14 Goward et al., Landsat’s Enduring Legacy.
15 Goward et al., Landsat’s Enduring Legacy.
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program to the federal government.16 (For more background on the history of Landsat
privatization, see Appendix A.) Thereafter, agency management of Landsat changed frequently
from 1992 through 1998, with responsibility moving from a NASA-U.S. Air Force-USGS
partnership to a NASA-NOAA-USGS partnership to the present NASA-USGS arrangement.17
In 2016, DOI and NASA signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish the
Sustainable Land Imaging Program, intended to enable the development of a multi-decade space
system to provide users worldwide with high-quality global land imaging measurements
compatible with the previous 44-year record.18 Under the agreement, NASA maintains
responsibility for developing, launching, and testing space systems and DOI, through the USGS,
is responsible for developing and maintaining associated ground systems (including satel ite
operation and mission data systems); operating the on-orbit spacecraft; and collecting, archiving,
processing, and distributing data to users. The NASA Associate Administrator for Science and the
DOI Assistant Secretary for Water and Science chair the Sustainable Land Imaging Joint Steering
Group and meet periodical y to coordinate and integrate efforts and to enable overal program
strategy. The Sustainable Land Imaging Program MOU also cal s for sensor and system studies,
business model studies, and other user-need and technology investigations to reduce cost and risk
for future missions.19
In accordance with guidance from the explanatory statement of the Consolidated and Further
Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (P.L. 113-235),20 NASA and DOI entered into an annex
agreement of the Sustainable Land Imaging Program MOU to build and launch Landsat 9,
general y a remake of Landsat 8, by 2020.21 The launch of Landsat 9 is now anticipated in 2021,
which stil would provide continuity of coverage, as NASA projects Landsat 7 has fuel through
summer 2021.
Agency Responsibilities and Budgets
The following describes the respective agency responsibilities of NASA and the USGS for the
Sustainable Land Imaging Program and funding activities for Landsat 8 and Landsat 9.

16 Goward et al., Landsat’s Enduring Legacy.
17 National Research Council, Assessment of Impediments to Interagency Collaboration on Space and Earth Science
Missions
, 2011, at https://doi.org/10.17226/13042.
18 USGS, “ MOU - Sustainable Land Imaging Research, Development, and Operations,” September 27, 2016, at
https://www.usgs.gov/media/files/mou-sustainable-land-imaging-research-development -and-operations.
19 Michael A. Wulder et al., “Current Status of Landsat Program, Science, and Applications,” Remote Sensing of
Environm ent
, vol. 225 (May 2019), pp. 127-147, at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2019.02.015. Hereinafter Wulder et al.,
“Current Status of Landsat.”
20 Explanatory statement of the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015 (P.L. 113-235),
available at “Explanatory Statement,” Proceedings and Debates of the 113 th Congress, Second Session, Congressional
Record
, vol. 160, part 2 (December 11, 2014), p. H9349, at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CREC-2014-12-11/
pdf/CREC-2014-12-11-house-bk2.pdf. T he explanatory statement called for Landsat 9 to cost substantially less than
Landsat 8; to provide the same data quality as Landsat 8, so as to not require an overhaul of associated ground systems;
and to provide no degradation or gap in data, including the eight -day continuous coverage. T he explanatory statement
did not endorse efforts to develop alternative approaches that would increase risk of a coverage gap and not meet the
needs of the Landsat user community.
21 USGS, “ MOU - Collaborate on the Landsat 9 Project ,” September 14, 2016, at https://www.usgs.gov/media/files/
mou-collaborate-landsat -9-project .
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NASA
Under the Sustainable Land Imaging Program, NASA is responsible for, among other things,22
 leading and managing the overal system architecture design and development;
 developing and executing agreements with potential international partners;
 developing and executing agreements for flight hardware development with
potential external partners;
 supporting ground system development and leading and managing mission
operational readiness;
 developing, integrating, and testing spacecraft, instruments, and launch vehicle
services for the program;
 launching the mission, performing on-orbit checkout and commissioning, and
transitioning Landsat to DOI for operations; and
 supporting the calibration, validation, and characterization of the instruments
throughout the remaining mission life cycle.
NASA Landsat activities are funded under the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission
Directorate.23 NASA spent $857 mil ion on Landsat 8.24 As of FY2020, NASA has spent $517
mil ion on its responsibilities for launching Landsat 9, out of an overal life-cycle cost
commitment of $885 mil ion.25 The president’s budget request for NASA in FY2021 includes
$86.5 mil ion for Landsat 9 and $20 mil ion for the Sustainable Land Imaging Program and
planning for Landsat Next.26 Congress has provided funding each year for the Sustainable Land
Imaging Program to support technology development activities for future land imaging sensors,
as wel as funding for the Landsat Next mission, which began pre-formulation activities in
FY2020.27
U.S. Geological Survey
Under the Sustainable Land Imaging Program, DOI, through the USGS, is responsible for, among
other things,28
 defining the needs of national and international users for a land imaging system
and providing technical, managerial, and scientific support to NASA related to
those needs throughout the space system development life cycle;
 supporting, under NASA leadership, the overal land imaging system architecture
design and development;

22 USGS, “ MOU - Sustainable Land Imaging Research, Development, and Operations,” September 27, 2016, at
https://www.usgs.gov/media/files/mou-sustainable-land-imaging-research-development -and-operations.
23 NASA, FY2021 Budget: Congressional Justification, 2020, at https://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html.
24 Personal correspondence between CRS and NASA on July 8, 2020.
25 An overall life-cycle cost commitment is the not -to-exceed amount NASA committed to when formulating the
mission. Personal correspondence between CRS and NASA on July 8, 2020, and September 9, 2020.
26 Personal correspondence between CRS and NASA on July 8, 2020.
27 Personal correspondence between CRS and NASA on July 8, 2020.
28 USGS, “ MOU - Sustainable Land Imaging Research, Development, and Operations,” September 27, 2016, at
https://www.usgs.gov/media/files/mou-sustainable-land-imaging-research-development -and-operations.
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Landsat 9 and the Future of the Sustainable Land Imaging Program

 leading and managing ground system development, including al pre and
postlaunch activities related to development of the ground-based component of
the land imaging system;
 leading and managing the calibration, validation, and characterization of the
instruments after reaching orbit;
 operating Landsat, as wel as the downlink, archiving, processing, and
distributing Landsat data;
 establishing cooperation in land imaging system data acquisition, data sharing,
product development, and distribution with potential external partners;
 defining and representing to NASA the needs and desires of user communities, as
wel as providing unique expertise and guidance in the design of spacecraft and
data operations, processing, and distribution methodologies and management
approaches;
 developing a common set of land imaging data products and data dissemination;
and
 maintaining the national archive of land imaging system data.
In addition, the USGS supports a Landsat Science Team consisting of USGS and NASA scientists
and engineers, external scientists, engineers, and application specialists, representing industry and
university research initiatives.29 Landsat Science Teams (e.g., the 2018-2023 Landsat Science
Team) consider technological design issues and evolution, changes to algorithms for data
processing and distribution, and the design of standard data products to enable easier use of the
data, among other objectives.
USGS Landsat activities are funded under the National Land Imaging Program in the Land
Resources Mission Area.30 The National Land Imaging Program, funded at $98.9 mil ion in
FY2020, has two main budget areas: Satel ite Operations and Science, Research, and
Investigations.31 Satel ite Operations, funded at $84.3 mil ion in FY2020, supports Landsat 9
ground system development ($32.0 mil ion in FY2020) and satel ite operations activities other
than the Landsat 9 ground system development ($52.3 mil ion in FY2020).32 The President’s
FY2021 budget request proposes to move the National Land Imaging Program to the Core
Science Systems Mission Area.33

29 USGS, Landsat Missions, “ Landsat Science T eams,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-
science-teams.
30 USGS, “ National Land Imaging Program,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/national-land-imaging-program.
31 Science, Research, and Investigations funding supports classified data activity operations, non -satellite archive
operations and data distribution, product development and improvement, remote sensing technology investigations, and
education and outreach grants. In FY2020, the funding for Science, Research, and Investigations totaled $14.6 million;
the FY2021 budget request is $5.8 million. Personal correspondence between CRS and the USGS on July 10, 2020.
32 Satellite Operations funds the USGS to (1) keep pace with NASA’s build and launch of the satellite, sensors, and
launch vehicle; (2) support the flight and ground system operations and maintenance of Landsats 7 and 8; (3) continue
the EROS national satellite archive operations and maintenance and data distribution; and (4) continue Landsat product
development and improvement. Personal correspondence between CRS and the USGS on July 10, 2020. USGS,
FY2021 USGS Budget Justification (Greenbook), 2020, at https://www.usgs.gov/about/organization/science-support/
budget/usgs-fy2021-budget.
33 USGS, FY2021 USGS Budget Justification (Greenbook), 2020, at https://www.usgs.gov/about/organization/science-
support/budget/usgs-fy2021-budget.
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The USGS spent $180 mil ion through FY2013 on its responsibilities for Landsat 8.34 Through
FY2020, the USGS has spent approximately $120 mil ion on Landsat 9 for ground system
development to operate the spacecraft in orbit; to collect the data and return it to the EROS
ground station; and to calibrate, validate, archive, process, and distribute the data at EROS.35 Out
of $73.4 mil ion for Satel ite Operations in the President’s FY2021 budget request, $32.0 mil ion
is for the remaining development activities for Landsat 9 and the initiation of Landsat Next
mission pre-formulation activities with NASA.36
Landsat Satellites and Instruments37
Landsat sensors record reflected and emitted energy from Earth in various wavelengths of the
electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum includes al forms of radiated energy,
from high frequency, short wavelength gamma rays and x-rays to low frequency, long wavelength
radio waves. The human eye is sensitive to the visible wavelengths of this spectrum; humans can
see color ranging from violet to red. Landsat instruments sense and record blue, green, and red
light in the visible spectrum as wel as near-infrared, shortwave-infrared, and thermal-infrared
light that human eyes cannot perceive (although humans can feel the thermal-infrared light as
heat). Landsat records this information digital y and transmits it to ground stations, where it is
processed and stored in a data archive.
Since 1972, Landsat satel ites have continuously gathered land imagery from space using several
instruments mounted on the satel ite. The instruments general y have improved in capability with
the launch of each successive mission; the satel ites, detectors, communications, downlink
capacity, and ground system technology likewise have advanced and changed over time.38 For a
timeline of Landsat satel ites, see Figure 1.

34 Personal correspondence between CRS and the USGS on July 10, 2020.
35 Personal correspondence between CRS and the USGS on July 10, 2020.
36 Personal correspondence between CRS and the USGS on July 10, 2020. USGS, FY2021 USGS Budget Justification
(Greenbook)
, 2020, at https://www.usgs.gov/about/organization/science-support/budget/usgs-fy2021-budget.
37 Parts of this description are excerpted from NASA, Landsat Science, “Data: T he Numbers Behind Landsat ,” at
http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/data/.
38 T he Landsat program has met with some failures in its history. For example, Landsat 6 failed to achieve orbit and an
instrument aboard Landsat 7 stopped functioning properly —the scan line corrector, which compensates for the forward
motion of the satellit e to align forward and reverse scans necessary to create an image. Goward et al., Landsat’s
Enduring Legacy
.
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Figure 1. Timeline of Landsat Satellites

Source: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “Landsat Missions Timeline,” at https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/
landsat-missions-timeline.
Note: Landsat 6 failed to achieve orbit.
Currently, Landsat 7 and 8 orbit the Earth at an altitude of 438 miles and complete 14 full orbits
each day.39 Each satel ite crosses every point on Earth once every 16 days. With Landsat 7 and 8
both operating, each point on Earth gets complete coverage every eight days, although clouds can
obscure the imagery over parts of the Earth at any given time. Landsat 8 captures approximately
750 images a day, an increase from the roughly 450 images a day captured by Landsat 7. Spatial
resolution for each satel ite is 30 x 30 meters for most observations, about the size of a basebal
diamond.
Landsat 8 carries two instruments: an operational land imager (OLI), which observes many of the
same bands of radiation as Landsat 7 but with improvements (see example OLI images in Figure
2
)
, and a thermal infrared sensor (TIRS) that can measure land surface temperature in two
different thermal infrared bands.40 The thermal infrared bands on Landsat 8 provide improved
temperature estimates and estimates of soil moisture compared with earlier Landsat instruments.41

39 USGS, “ What Are the Acquisition Schedules for the Landsat Satellites?,” at https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-are-
acquisition-schedules-landsat-satellites.
40 Early in the Landsat 8 mission, the thermal infrared sensor (T IRS) experienced stray light problems, and operators
performed technical adjustments to stabilize its measurement performance in orbit. NASA, Landsat Science, Landsat 8,
“Mission Details,” at https://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/landsat-8/mission-details/.
41 USGS, “ What Are the Best Landsat Spectral Bands for Use in My Research?,” at https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/what-
are-best-landsat -spectral-bands-use-my-research.
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Figure 2. Landsat 8 Images Showing the Effects of Flooding from Dam Failures

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Observatory, “Muddy Flooding in
Michigan,” at https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/146752/muddy-flooding-in-michigan.
Note: The pair of natural color images shows flooding across Midland County, MI, in 2020 (image on the right)
fol owing two dam failures on the Tittabawassee River as observed by the operational land imager on Landsat 8.
The 2020 image shows the impacts of flooding, with light brown colors indicating increased sediment in flood
waters and deposition of sediment downstream of the dams. Failure of the Edenvil e Dam also resulted in loss of
water in the reservoir upstream of the dam.
Initiated in March 2015, Landsat 9 (see Figure 3) has a design very similar to that of Landsat 8,
in order to shorten the development time and reduce the risk of a Landsat data gap when Landsat
7 ceases to operate.42 The instruments on board Landsat 9 are similar to but are improvements
over those currently col ecting data on board Landsat 8; Landsat 9’s instruments include the
Operational Land Imager–2 (OLI–2), built by Bal Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, and
the Thermal Infrared Sensor–2 (TIRS–2), built at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.43
Northrup Grumman Innovation Systems is building the spacecraft, and General Dynamics is
building the mission operations element. The Landsat ground system at USGS EROS has
undergone improvements to support both Landsat 8 and Landsat 9 operations and to increase the
computational efficiency of data processing, archiving, management, and distribution.44

42 NASA, Landsat Science, “Landsat 9,” https://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/landsat-9/. Statement of NASA Administrator
Charles F. Bolden Jr., in U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science, Space, and T echnology, Subcommittee on
Space, An Overview of the Budget Proposal for the National Aeronautics and Space Adm inistration for Fiscal Year
2017
, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., March 17, 2016, HRG-2016-T EC-0020.
43 T he original Landsat 8 T IRS had an optical design problem that degraded the radiometric accuracy of the instrument,
and the encoder for the T IRS image select mirror stopped operating early in the mission. T he revised T IRS-2 design
addressed these problems. Wulder et al., “ Current Status of Landsat.”
44 Wulder et al., “Current Status of Landsat.”
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Landsat 9 and the Future of the Sustainable Land Imaging Program

Figure 3. Rendering of the Landsat 9 Design

Source: NASA, Landsat Science, Landsat 9, “Landsat 9 Overview,” at https://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/landsat-9/
landsat-9-overview/.
Landsat 9 is currently slated for a 2021 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, on board a
United Launch Al iance Atlas V 401 rocket.45 After launch, Landsat 9 wil move into the current
orbit of Landsat 7, which NASA is expected to decommission shortly thereafter, when its fuel
runs out. Landsat 9 wil image the Earth every 16 days in an 8-day offset with Landsat 8.46
Landsat 9 wil collect as many as 750 images per day; with Landsat 8, the two satel ites wil add
nearly 1,500 new images a day to the USGS Landsat archive. Both instruments on Landsat 9 have
a 5-year mission design life, and the spacecraft has more than 10 years of fuel. Data acquired by
Landsat 9 are intended to be consistent with archived data and therefore should al ow for long-
term comparisons of changes in the Earth’s land features.
Use of Landsat Data
In response to congressional direction in the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-267), the
White House led an assessment of national programs for civil Earth observations in 2014, which
named Landsat one of the most critical U.S. systems, third only to the satel ite-based Global
Positioning System and the National Weather Service satel ites.47 Satel ite remote sensing data
provide a relatively low-cost alternative to aerial surveys, offering the potential to survey large
areas, albeit with possibly lower resolution.48 Data from Landsat are used widely in the United
States and worldwide to support operational decisionmaking and research in areas such as
agriculture, forestry and range resources, land use and mapping, geology, hydrology, coastal
resources, environmental monitoring, disaster response, and national security (see Figure 4).49
Landsat data also are used for commercial applications and in derived products, such as Google

45 USGS, Landsat Missions, “Landsat 9,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-9.
46 Because of cloud cover, the period between clear observations for an application may be longer than the revisit time.
T o get seasonal observations, the satellite must acquire several images during the season to increase the likelihood tha t
the area will be cloud free during at least one overpass per season.
47 Office of Science and T echnology Policy (OST P), National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, July 2014, at
https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/NST C/
2014_national_plan_for_civil_earth_observations.pdf. Hereinafter OST P, National Plan for Civil Earth Observations.
48 Ginger Butcher, Linda Owen, and Christopher Barnes, “Landsat: the Cornerstone of Global Land Imaging,” GIM
International
, February 2, 2019, at https://www.gim-international.com/content/article/landsat-the-cornerstone-of-
global-land-imaging. Hereinafter Butcher et al., “ Landsat the Cornerstone.”
49 USGS, Economic Valuation of Landsat Imagery; National Research Council (NRC), Landsat and Beyond:
Sustaining and Enhancing the Nation ’s Land Im aging Program
, 2013, at https://doi.org/10.17226/18420. Hereinafter
NRC, Landsat and Beyond.
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Earth, which themselves have mil ions of users.50 Studies have noted that users of Landsat data
are overwhelmingly government agencies, academic institutions, and nongovernmental
organizations, with commercial entities constituting a smal fraction of users.51 USGS researchers
estimate that Landsat imagery provided U.S. users with $2.06 bil ion in benefits in 2017, with an
additional $1.39 bil ion in benefits for international users.52 When those researchers incorporated
the number of images downloaded from EROS by cloud vendors, the benefits to domestic and
international users were estimated at $4.18 bil ion in 2017.
Figure 4. Primary Uses of Landsat Data
(October 1, 2019-June 30, 2020)

Source: USGS, Landsat Missions, “Landsat Project Statistics,” accessed on August 10, 2020, at
https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-project-statistics.
Notes: Top uses of Landsat data, as indicated by Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) registration
system user profile demographics.

50 USGS, Economic Valuation of Landsat Imagery.
51 NRC, Landsat and Beyond.
52 USGS, Economic Valuation of Landsat Imagery.
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Use of Landsat by the Federal Government
The federal government is a prominent user of Landsat data, in part due to its land management responsibilities.
More than 30 federal agencies and departments use Landsat data. The federal government owns roughly 640
mil ion acres of land in the United States, which constitutes 28% of the 2.27 bil ion acres of land in the country. In
addition, the Department of Defense (DOD) owns, leases, or otherwise possesses 26.9 mil ion acres of land
worldwide (in the United States and other countries). Landsat data are used operational y by virtual y every U.S.
land management agency to define broad land-cover categories and to monitor changes (e.g., fire impacts). The
fol owing are some examples of long-term use of Landsat data by the federal government:

In the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Foreign Agricultural Service uses Landsat data to monitor
global crop supplies and stocks to forecast shortfal s or gluts of various crops on the market. The USDA also
uses Landsat to assess and quantify flood damage to crops to determine crop-insurance payments to farmers.

Within DOD, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers uses Landsat data mostly for civilian water resource
purposes, such as responding to flood events, whereas other DOD agencies use the data for cartography,
topographic mapping, and other strategic ends. The U.S. military routinely generates up -to-date image base
maps and three-dimensional visualizations of landscapes using Landsat for overseas deployments.

The United States Global Change Research Program, authorized by the Global Change Research Act of 1990
(P.L. 101-606) and representing 13 federal agencies, identified Landsat as a critical observatory for climate and
environmental change research due to the unbroken length of the Landsat record and its ability to monitor
remote regions with surface features, such as glaciers, rainforests, permafrost, and coral reefs.
For more examples of Landsat use by federal agencies, see NASA, Landsat Science, “How Landsat Helps: Case
Studies,” at https://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/how_landsat_helps/case-studies-2/.
Sources: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal
Strategy for Earth Observation from Space
, 2018, at https://doi.org/10.17226/24938; CRS Report R42346, Federal
Land Ownership: Overview and Data
; Sam N. Goward et al., Landsat’s Enduring Legacy: Pioneering Global Land
Observations from Space
(American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing: Bethesda, MD, 2017).
Some stakeholders have referred to Landsat as a gold standard for its length of record,
availability of data, global coverage, and calibration standards.53 Landsat serves as the central
reference comparison point for many moderate- and high-resolution optical satel ite systems
operated by governments or commercial entities.54 The Landsat program’s policies and
technologies also have influenced programs of foreign governments (e.g., the ESA’s Copernicus
Program Sentinel-2 satel ite constel ation; see Appendix B) and a new generation of commercial
satel ites.55
Increased Data Availability and Use Under Changing Policies
In early Landsat missions, the USGS relied on a network of international ground stations,
operated by cooperating nations, to downlink and store Landsat images.56 In 2006, the USGS
recognized that the volume of Landsat data holdings held by international cooperators (an
estimated 4 mil ion images) far exceeded the holdings in the USGS Landsat archive at EROS (an
estimated 1.9 mil ion images).57 In 2010, the USGS started the U.S. Landsat Global Archive

53 Wulder et al., “ Current Status of Landsat .”
54 NGAC, LAG, Evaluation of a Range of Landsat Data Cost Sharing Models, June 2019, at https://www.fgdc.gov/
ngac/meetings/june-2019/ngac-paper-evaluation-of-a-range-of-landsat -data.pdf. Hereinafter LAG, Evaluation of
Landsat Data Cost Sharing Models
.
55 LAG, Recommendations Beyond Landsat 9.
56 Michael Wulder et al., “T he Global Landsat Archive: Status, Consolidation, and Direction,” Remote Sensing of
Environm ent
, vol. 185 (November 2016), pp. 271-283, at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/
S0034425715302194. Hereinafter Wulder et al., “ Global Landsat Archive.”
57 Wulder et al., “Global Landsat Archive.”
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Consolidation program to repatriate unique Landsat data.58 The initiative had acquired and
reprocessed more than 5 mil ion images by December 2019, increasing the Landsat archive’s
coverage equivalent to the launch of an additional Landsat mission and expanding its historical
spatial coverage (for more information, see Appendix B).59
In 2008, the USGS announced no-charge electronic access to any Landsat image held in the
USGS-managed national archive.60 This decision removed financial barriers for potential users,
resulting in new and expanded Landsat applications.61 The price for a single Landsat image varied
from $20 to $200 from 1972 to 1982, increased to between $3,000 and $4,000 from 1983 to 1998,
and then decreased to approximately $600 from 1999 to 2008.62 Over these years, no more than
3,000 Landsat images were sold in a given month.63 In 2009, the first full year of free and open
access, users downloaded nearly 1 mil ion images.64
Since 2008, the use of Landsat data has increased significantly, especial y in global time-series
applications, such as the World Resources Institute Global Forest Watch web application, which
monitors global forests in near real time.65 Figure 5 shows the cumulative number of Landsat
images downloaded from the USGS servers since full implementation of the free-access policy
(in the figure, increments are labeled for every 10 mil ion image downloads following the first
mil ion in 2009).66 USGS statistics do not include data accessed from secondary platforms, such
as Google Earth Engine or Amazon Web Services, which started hosting Landsat data after 2008;
as a result, the actual increases are likely greater than those il ustrated in Figure 5.67 For example,
a 2018 report stated that Google Earth delivers approximately 1 bil ion Landsat images to users
per month.68

58 Wulder et al., “Global Landsat Archive.”
59 USGS, Landsat Missions, “ Landsat Global Archive Consolidation,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/
landsat/landsat-global-archive-consolidation; Wulder et al., “ Global Landsat Archive.”
60 USGS, Landsat Missions, “Imagery for Everyone, T imeline Set to Release Entire USGS Landsat Archive at No
Charge,” April 2008, at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/imagery-everyone.
61 USGS, “ A Landsat Milestone: One Hundred Million Downloads,” at https://www.usgs.gov/center-news/a-landsat-
milestone-one-hundred-million-downloads.
62 Zhe Zhu et al., “Benefits of the Free and Open Landsat Data Policy,” Remote Sensing of Environment, vol. 224
(April 2019), pp. 382-385, at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2019.02.016. Hereinafter Zhu et al., “ Benefits of Landsat
Data Policy.”
63 Zhu et al., “Benefits of Landsat Data Policy.”
64 Zhu et al., “Benefits of Landsat Data Policy.”
65 Butcher et al., “Landsat the Cornerstone.”
66 USGS, Landsat Missions, “Landsat Project Statistics,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-
project -statistics.
67 Zhu et al., “Benefits of Landsat Data Policy.”
68 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A
Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space
, 2018, at https://doi.org/10.17226/24938. Hereinafter NASEM,
Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space.
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Figure 5. Cumulative Landsat Image Downloads from USGS Inventory Since the
2008 Data Policy
(January 1, 2008-March 9, 2020)

Source: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Landsat Missions, “Landsat Project Statistics,” at https://www.usgs.gov/
land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-project-statistics.
Notes: Jan = January. Number of Landsat images downloaded since the entire USGS Landsat archive was made
available at no charge to al users. As of March 31, 2020, Landsat images have been downloaded more than 100
mil ion times from the Landsat archive.
Anecdotal observations suggest Landsat users have gravitated toward commercial cloud
computing vendors to download and process Landsat in the cloud.69 Working under the 2018
Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, in 2020, the USGS placed a copy of its consolidated Landsat
global data inventory into a commercial cloud.70 Landsat’s cloud architecture uses a hybrid
approach that includes the USGS cloud hosting solutions program and existing EROS center
private cloud capabilities. The USGS suggests the commercial cloud may be more convenient and
cost-effective than traditional downloading for some users to reprocess Landsat data. The agency
estimates that users following the traditional workflow may spend up to 80% of their Landsat
work time downloading and processing files.71 With cloud computing, users can run algorithms
against the entire archive without having to download and local y store and process data. Cloud
computing also al ows users to access spatial or temporary subsets of data without having to
download the entire image and subset the data local y.72 In addition to this cloud architecture, the

69 USGS, Economic Valuation of Landsat Imagery. For an explanation of cloud computing, see CRS Report R46119,
Cloud Com puting: Background, Status of Adoption by Federal Agencies, and Congressional Action , by Patricia
Moloney Figliola.
70 USGS, “ Landsat Data Moving to Public Cloud in Early 2020,” at https://www.usgs.gov/news/landsat-data-moving-
public-cloud-early-2020.
71 USGS, “ Landsat Data in the Cloud,” at https://www.usgs.gov/media/videos/landsat-data-cloud.
72 Zhu et al., “Benefits of Landsat Data Policy”; USGS, “ Landsat Data in the Cloud,” at https://www.usgs.gov/media/
videos/landsat -data-cloud.
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USGS wil continue to manage the original Landsat global data inventory at EROS, and the
inventory wil be available from traditional websites on a long-term basis.73
Documenting Landsat data use is important for identifying the needs of users for future missions
and products. The current metric for data usage is image downloads. This metric may
underestimate the use of Landsat images, as other websites host Landsat data. Moving forward,
Congress may want to direct the USGS to consider new ways to document Landsat data use, as
the metric of image downloads is less relevant when numerous users take advantage of in-the-
cloud processing without actual y downloading images.
Landsat After Landsat 9
With the pending launch of Landsat 9, Congress may wish to consider the future of the
Sustainable Land Imaging Program. More specifical y, Congress may want to consider whether to
support the development of another moderate-resolution land imaging satel ite after Landsat 9,
and it may investigate potential alternatives.
A future moderate-resolution mission could differ from previous Landsat satel ites in several
ways. For example, such a mission could adopt a smal er satel ite design, increase image
resolution or the number of images captured per day, reduce the time between images of a given
location, sense a wider variety of optical and infrared frequencies, or make other design changes.
There may be ways to acquire data similar to that provided by Landsat without building another
fully federal y funded satel ite, like Landsat 8 or Landsat 9. Such arrangements could include
developing alternative models for generating sources of multispectral and thermal imaging, such
as a public-private partnerships, or procuring data from non-U.S. moderate-resolution satel ite
systems. These issues are discussed below in the context of the Sustainable Land Imaging
Architecture Study, guidance from the Obama and Trump Administrations for the nation’s Earth
observation program, and reports and studies from advising bodies and stakeholders.
Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture Study
Under the Sustainable Land Imaging Program, NASA and the USGS work on planning activities,
including requirements and technology development, in an effort to reduce cost and risk in future
missions. The USGS partners with federal agencies and others to document the uses of and
requirements for land imaging data.74 For example, the USGS recently released a user-needs
study documenting the needs of federal government civil subject matter experts who rely on
moderate-resolution land imaging data across a diverse range of scientific research and
application domains.75 Based on the survey results, federal government civil users seek
improvement to 10-meter spatial resolution, at least weekly cloud-free observation frequency, and
the addition of spectral bands not currently measured.
Whereas the USGS leads the focus on the uses and requirements for land imaging data, NASA
leads instrument studies, business model studies, and other technology investigations to reduce
the cost and risk of satel ite missions. For example, NASA cal ed for proposals for sustainable

73 USGS, “ Landsat Data Moving to Public Cloud in Early 2020,” at https://www.usgs.gov/news/landsat-data-moving-
public-cloud-early-2020.
74 USGS, “ Requirements Capabilities & Analysis for Earth Observations,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/
rca-eo.
75 Wu et al., “User Needs.”
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land imaging technology development in 2015 to identify and develop key enabling
technologies.76 Bal Aerospace—one of six companies selected by NASA to receive study
funding—developed, built, and flight tested a multispectral airborne imager with a much smal er
volume and a lower cost than Landsat 8.77
The Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture Study Team, initiated in 2018 and consisting of
scientists from NASA and the USGS, was created to advance measurement capability for the next
mission after Landsat 9, while preserving continuity and constraining program costs.78 The study
team was to consider al options, including new, compact imaging technologies; international
partnerships; and commercial-sector involvement. In late 2018, the study team requested public
comments on draft sustainable land imaging science requirements for use by the study team.79
The draft requirements were presented at a threshold level (the minimal y acceptable performance
level) and at a goal level (the desired level). For example, one of the draft requirements was that
the Sustainable Land Imaging Program shal be capable of collecting imagery at the same
location on Earth every eight days as the threshold level and every three days as the goal level.
In early 2020, the study team delivered the report to NASA and the USGS; as of October 2020,
the report is not publicly available.80 The study was supposed to suggest as many as three viable
architecture concepts and capabilities for deciding future acquisition strategies and approaches
based on the sustainable land imaging requirements. The agencies are further developing details
and options. In September 2020, USGS Director James Reil y shared that the agencies looked at
options other than a single large satel ite bus, including acquiring Earth imagery from a number
of different platforms that can al be brought together as a system of systems.81 In 2020, the
agencies plan to release a request for information to solicit feedback from the user community on
the feasibility of instrumentation and platforms to meet science requirements and of requirements
to meet intended applications.82 The agencies anticipate sharing information about the mission,
currently termed Landsat Next, by the release of the President’s FY2022 budget request.83

76 NASA called for additional proposals in 2019, with selection expected in 2020. NASA, “ Sustainable Land Imaging
T echnology,” at https://esto.nasa.gov/slit/.
77 NASA, “ 2015 SLI-T Projects Awarded,” at https://esto.nasa.gov/2015-sli-t-projects-awarded/; Dennis Nicks et al.,
“Continuation of the Landsat Mission with Sustained Land Imaging (SLI) and the Reduced Envelope Multispectral
Imager (REMI),” Proceedings of SPIE Volume 11127, Earth Observing Systems XXIV, 111270X (September 2019), at
https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2529570.
78 USGS, “ Architecture Study T eam Narrowing Options for Landsat Next ,” at https://www.usgs.gov/center-news/
architecture-study-team-narrowing-options-landsat-next.
79 T he draft requirements were derived from assessments of current Landsat and Sentinel-2 continuity and performance,
USGS user needs, input from the Landsat Science T eam, and subject matter expertise . Beta.sam.gov, “ Sustainable
Land Imaging (SLI) Program Beyond Landsat 9 Architecture Study ,” at https://beta.sam.gov/opp/
ba6bec027510abc30e1f6fdafa74228c/view?keywords=%22%20NASA-SLI-Beyond-L9.%22&sort=-relevance&index=
&is_active=true&page=1.
80 USGS, “ Landsat, Collections Forum Updates Missions, Products, and Future Possibilities,” at https://www.usgs.gov/
cent er-news/landsat-collections-forum-updates-missions-products-and-future-possibilities.
81 Debra Werner, “Landsat Next likely to bear little resemblance to its predecessors,” SpaceNews, September 28, 2020,
at https://spacenews.com/landsat -next -likely-to-bear-little-resemblance-to-its-predecessors/.
82 Personal correspondence between CRS and the USGS on July 10, 2020.
83 Personal correspondence between CRS and the USGS on July 10, 2020.
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The White House National Plan for Civil Earth Observations
The National Plan for Civil Earth Observations is intended “to provide strategic guidance for a
balanced portfolio of Earth observations and observing systems.”84 The first plan was published
in 2014, following direction in Section 702 of the NASA Authorization Act of 2010, which tasked
the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) with developing a mechanism to ensure
greater coordination of research, operations, and activities for civilian Earth observations,
including development of a strategic implementation plan.85 The statute requires OSTP to update
the strategic implementation plan every three years.
In December 2019, the Trump Administration published an updated plan.86 The plan stated that
the Administration continues to support Landsat 9 via the Sustainable Land Imaging Program to
continue the (then) 47-year Landsat record of global land imaging measurements. The report also
reiterated that federal Earth observation data are public goods and that access to these data
significantly enhances their value. The plan encouraged agencies to explore how best to leverage
the growth in commercial Earth observation capabilities, including determining whether a
commercial solution is available that might be more appropriate than creation of a new federal
observing asset, while sustaining the data infrastructure needed by both commercial and
government sectors. The plan recommended federal agency initiatives take advantage of
technological advancements, such as cloud-based storage, computing, and distribution (the USGS
is following that guidance by launching its cloud-based data services) and encouraged greater use
of modeling and data assimilation, algorithm development, artificial intel igence, and high-
performance and cloud computing. The report also reiterated prior support for enhancing
international cooperation to enable more robust Earth observation architectures and to increase
access to data from non-U.S. sources by working through international frameworks. (See
Appendix B.)
Reports by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and
Medicine
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) has produced several
reports on Earth observation from space. A 2013 report on Landsat recommended that “a
systematic and deliberate program, aimed at continuing to collect vital data within lower, wel -
defined, manageable budgets, replace the historical pattern of chaotic programmatic support and
ad hoc design and implementation of spacecraft and sensors in the Landsat series.”87 Following
that report, NASA and the USGS established the Sustainable Land Imaging Program, which
mirrored many of the report’s recommendations. The 2013 report also recommended that the
program consider a combination of the following to increase capabilities while reducing costs for
land imaging beyond Landsat 8:
 pursue block buys and fixed-price contracting;
 collaborate with commercial and international partners;

84 OST P, National Plan for Civil Earth Observations.
85 OST P, National Plan for Civil Earth Observations.
86 National Science and T echnology Council, 2019 National Plan for Civil Earth Observations, 2019, at
https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Natl-Plan-for-Civil-Earth-Obs.pdf.
87 NRC, Landsat and Beyond.
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 streamline the design, construction, and launch process by using a single
organizational unit approach consisting of both government employees and
contractors working together as a fully integrated team;
 identify foreign sources of land imaging data complementary to land imaging
requirements and seek formal data-sharing agreements with them;
 consider technological innovations, such as increasing the width of each scan and
employing constellations of smal satel ites;
 incremental y incorporate new technologies that leverage industry, international,
and other technology development activities but do not compromise core
operational capabilities;
 accommodate candidates for improved or new instruments on a smal satel ite for
the purpose of demonstrating new technologies; and
 take advantage of opportunities to fly as an additional mission on a launch
vehicle that is launching other missions.
At Congress’s direction, NASA and the USGS designed Landsat 9 essential y as a copy of
Landsat 8; therefore, the government did not incorporate many of these recommendations (e.g.,
incorporating new technologies, launching as a secondary payload, or employing constel ations of
smal er satel ites). Congress may consider revisiting the 2013 report’s findings for future Landsat
missions beyond Landsat 9.
NASEM also produces decadal strategies for Earth observations from space; the most recent
decadal report was published in 2018.88 That report noted that the Sustainable Land Imaging
Program “transformed the Landsat program” by operating Landsat with consistency, connecting
user communities and the developers of new measurement technologies, and archiving and
distributing data products. The report also highlighted the success of extending Landsat’s
capability through cross-calibration and data sharing with ESA’s Sentinel-2 (see Appendix B).
The report recommended that NASA constrain cost growth in the development portion of the
Sustainable Land Imaging Program and ideal y reduce cost from one generation to the next. It
also recommended that the USGS ensure budget growth is minimal to avoid strain on the overal
USGS budget. In addition, the report recommended sustaining and expanding partnerships and
user communities associated with the Sustainable Land Imaging Program.
National Geospatial Advisory Committee’s Landsat Advisory
Group
Each year, the USGS requests that the Landsat Advisory Group (LAG), a subcommittee of the
National Geospatial Advisory Committee (authorized under the Geospatial Data Act of 2018, P.L.
115-254), provide specific advice on the Landsat program’s requirements, objectives, and
actions.89 LAG membership includes representation from federal and nonfederal government,
industry, academia, and the nonprofit sector. In recent years, the LAG has provided reports on its
recommendations for future missions following Landsat 9, analysis of nonfederal Landsat user
requirements, and evaluation of Landsat data cost-sharing models, among other topics.

88 NASEM, Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space.
89 For more information on the National Geospatial Advisory Committee and the Geospatial Data Act of 2018, see CRS
Report R45348, The Geospatial Data Act of 2018, by Peter Folger.
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In April 2018, the LAG provided the USGS with recommendations for future missions following
Landsat 9 to support the Sustainable Land Imaging Architecture Study.90 The LAG recommended
the Sustainable Land Imaging Program pursue enhanced capabilities for future Landsat missions
while maintaining continuity and current Landsat capabilities by investigating the following:
 the adoption of newer technologies, especial y in sensors and overal spacecraft
electronics, that would result in substantial size, weight, power, and cost savings;
 an approach (similar to the approach of ESA’s Copernicus constel ations) of
building multiple satel ite constel ations at once and launching them over time to
reduce development and acquisition costs per satel ite (e.g., Sentinel-2 costs are
estimated at $250-$300 mil ion per satel ite versus Landsat 8’s $857 mil ion
cost);91 and
 the benefits and costs of changing future Landsats’ ground sample distance to 10
meters or smal er (to increase compatibility with Sentinel-2 sensors, increase the
width of each scan, increase coverage, and reduce overlap with commercial
providers) and improving Landsat spectral resolution.92
In the 2018 report, the LAG also recommended a market study to determine if sufficient demand
existed to explore the creation of a public-private partnership where the private contractor would
provide two or more tiers of data—one meeting Landsat technical requirements for open and free
distribution and others that provide superior data that is sold to users—thereby creating a revenue
stream sufficient to offset at least some of the system’s building and operating costs. The LAG
noted that any pursuit of a public-private partnership model must ensure an equitable balance of
risk between the federal government and the private-sector partner.
In 2019, the LAG, charged by the USGS to consider a range of possible Landsat data cost-sharing
approaches, further analyzed the public-private partnership and other models.93 The report first
recommended not charging any fees for Landsat data with the characteristics of Landsat 8 and 9.
The LAG predicted that a fee for these data would generate little revenue, cost the USGS to sel
the data, cost other federal agencies to buy the data, stifle remote-sensing and value-added
industries, and require changes to current laws and regulations. The LAG recommended further
investigation of three other approaches to further determine feasibility, cost, benefits, and risks:
 generating revenue by sel ing enhanced imagery products and tailored image-
collection requests from sensors on board Landsat satel ites, while keeping
standard Landsat 8 and 9 imagery data free and openly available;
 moving EROS from the current government-owned, contractor-operated business
model to a contractor-owned, contractor-operated business model that may more
efficiently deliver Landsat data and data-management services at lower costs; and

90 LAG, Recommendations Beyond Landsat 9.
91 Sentinel-2 was designed as a four-satellite acquisition (e.g., a four-satellite buy with two satellites in orbit at any one
time), thereby reducing development and acquisition costs per satellite.
92 In the 2016 LAG study, nonfederal Landsat users identified improved spatial and temporal resolution as the most
important improvements needed for Landsat 10. NAGC, LAG, Analysis of Non-Federal Landsat User Requirem ents,
2016, at https://www.fgdc.gov/ngac/meetings/april-2016/landsat -user-requirements-analysis-ngac-june-2016.pdf.
93 LAG, Evaluation of Landsat Data Cost Sharing Models.
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 creating public-private partnership(s) for the federal government to benefit from
some of private industry’s efficiencies, while maintaining Landsat continuity and
preserving public availability of Landsat 8 and 9 quality data.94
The LAG report concluded that, considering the 2019 report’s findings, a more impactful study
on how to reduce public expenditures would analyze how the government could reduce the costs
of building and launching Landsat sensors, as discussed in the 2018 report, rather than focusing
on the cost sharing of operations.
In 2020, the USGS tasked the LAG to provide a modernized interpretation of the Land Remote
Sensing Policy Act of 1992 that would inform future land remote sensing policy formulation and
remain consistent with the spirit of the existing language.95 For the analysis, the LAG is to
consider technology trends in space and ground mission segments, public-private partnering
opportunities, and evolving needs across a broad range of applications.
Congressional Deliberation
Since FY2015, Congress has supported the development of Landsat 9 by appropriating funding
for what is essential y a rebuild of Landsat 8.96 Congress has deliberated future missions and
alternative options through hearings and legislation.97 In 2015 and 2016, the Space Subcommittee
of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology discussed alternatives for Landsat
missions during hearings on commercial opportunities for Earth science and remote sensing.98
The subcommittee discussed the possibility of smal er, less expensive satel ites; satel ites as a
payload on another launch platform; alternative business models, including public-private
partnerships; the possibility of leveraging the ESA’s Sentinel-2 constel ation while augmenting
the data with a thermal infrared sensor; and reforms to the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of
1992.
Congress may consider revisiting these discussions, in addition to examining the stakeholder
reports discussed above. For example, many of these reports recommend further exploring
technological improvements, cost savings opportunities, public-private partnerships, and
international cooperation and data sharing. In addition, these reports underscore the importance of
appraising users and uses of Landsat data so that the program can continue to meet user needs,
including a wide range of required federal government activities. Congress also may reexamine,
for example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R.
5503, 115th Congress). That bil would have limited the obligation of funds for Landsat 11 (the

94 According to the LAG, this approach depends upon the ability of private industry to develop and implement a
successful business model and upon any legal changes required, including amending the Land Remote Sensing Policy
Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-555).
95 Frank Avila and Roberta Lenczowski, “Landsat Advisory Group (LAG) Overview,” June 10, 2020, at
https://www.fgdc.gov/ngac/meetings/june-2020/landsat -advisory-group-update-ngac-june-2020.pdf.
96 Since FY2015, Congress has provided appropriations for Landsat 9 in Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related
Agencies appropriations bills and in Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations bills.
97 In the 115th Congress, the Senate passed and the House rejected the Space Frontier Act of 2019 (S. 3277), which
included a provision providing technical changes to 51 U.S.C. §60147 relating to agency consultation for the Landsat
program. In the 116th Congress, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and T ransportation reported the Space
Frontier Act of 2019 (S. 919), which included the same provision.
98 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science, Space, and T echnology, Subcommittee on Space, Exploring
Com m ercial Opportunities to Maxim ize Earth Science Investm ents
, 114th Cong., 1st sess., November 17, 2015; U.S.
Congress, House Committee on Science, Space, and T echnology, Subcommittee on Space, Com m ercial Rem ote
Sensing: Facilitating Innovation and Leadership
, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., September 7, 2016.
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mission following Landsat Next) or any other subsequent Landsat system until NASA completes
a study assessing which aspects of Landsat system observations and associated science
requirements can be provided by purchasing data from the private sector or through public -
private partnerships.99
In addition, development of new approaches to operating satel ite missions may alter planning for
future missions. For example, Congress directed NASA (in report language accompanying
appropriations legislation) to launch a robotic spacecraft to refuel Landsat-7 before its fuel supply
runs out as a demonstration of satel ite-servicing technologies.100 Due to delays, the Restore-L
mission is now working toward a launch readiness date of December 2023, years after Landsat-7
is projected to run out of fuel.101 Nonetheless, the outcomes of the Restore-L mission may have
implications for future Landsat and other government and commercial space missions.102


99 T he House Committee on Science, Space, and T echnology reported the National Aeronautics and Space
Administration Authorization Act of 2018 (H.R. 5503, 115th Congress), but the House did not vote on the provision
before the end of the 115th Congress.
100 T he Senate reports accompanying the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations bills for FY2019 ( S.Rept.
115-275) and FY2020 (S.Rept. 116-127), which are incorporated in conference reports accompanying enacted
appropriations, directed NASA to launch Restore-L before Landsat -7’s fuel supply runs out . Section 607 of the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Authorization Act of 2020 (H.R. 5666) would direct the NASA
Administrator to continue development of Restore-L technologies and capabilities for a planned on -orbit demonstration
to refuel the Landsat 7 spacecraft and to produce an assessment of in-space assembly and servicing technologies, the
potential uses of those technologies, and related issues.
101 U.S. Government Accountability Office, NASA, Assessments of Major Projects, GAO-20-405, April 2020, pp. 43-
44, at https://www.gao.gov/assets/710/706505.pdf.
102 T he FY2021 House Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations report ( H.Rept. 116-455) directs NASA to
conduct an orbital refueling mission in 2022 but does not mention Landsat -7 as the target satellite to refuel. T he report
also encourages the development of satellite-servicing technologies to benefit not only NASA but also other
government entities (e.g., the Department of Defense) and the private sector. For more information about this mission,
see NASA, “NASA’s Restore-L Mission to Refuel Landsat 7, Demonstrate Crosscutting T echnologies,” Space Tech,
August 6, 2017, at https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-s-restore-l-mission-to-refuel-landsat -7-demonstrate-crosscutting-
technologies.
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Appendix A. Privatizing Landsat: A Brief History
Almost since the beginning of satel ite launches, including both land imaging and weather
satel ites, privatization of satel ite systems has been discussed. Efforts to privatize Landsat began
during the Carter Administration and accelerated during the Reagan Administration. The Carter
Administration initiated the move toward privatization when it released Presidential Directive 54
in 1979, which recommended transfer of Landsat operations from a research land remote sensing
system under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to an operational
system under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).103 The Carter
Administration asserted that Landsat was mature enough to move from a research system to an
operational system and that the user base for Landsat data eventual y would grow under NOAA
management. The directive also recommended development of a plan for eventual transition of
Landsat to private-sector operation. Private companies would assume responsibility for their own
remote sensing systems and would provide data for government and private customers.104
In a policy shift to more rapid privatization of operational satel ite systems, the Reagan
Administration in March 1983 proposed to move both Landsat and NOAA weather satel ite
system operations, as wel as future ocean-observing satel ite systems, from the federal
government to the private sector.105 Congress raised concerns that the Reagan Administration was
moving too quickly toward privatizing weather satel ites without congressional involvement. The
opposition from Congress and other stakeholders to privatizing NOAA weather satel ites led to
Congress enacting language prohibiting their sale in the FY1984 appropriations act funding the
Department of Commerce (P.L. 98-166).106 In deliberations leading up to that prohibition, the
House Science and Technology Committee suggested that pursuing the sale of the weather
satel ites distracted from the more important issue—maintaining global leadership in land remote
sensing (i.e., Landsat). In contrast to its opposition to the privatization of NOAA weather
satel ites, Congress did not oppose Reagan Administration efforts to transition Landsat to the
private sector. In fact, the committee urged that the debate shift back to its original track—
namely, how best to accomplish a transfer of land remote sensing capability to the U.S. private
sector.107

103 See out-of-print CRS Issue Brief IB92092, U.S. Civil Earth Observation Programs: Landsat, Mission to Planet
Earth, and the Weather Satellites
, by David P. Radzanowski, available from Anna Normand to congressional clients on
request.
104 Ray A. Williamson, “T he Landsat Legacy: Remote Sensing Policy and the Development of Commercial Remote
Sensing,” Photogram m etric Engineering and Rem ote Sensing , vol. 63, no. 7 (July 1997), pp. 877-885. Hereinafter
Williamson, “Landsat Legacy.”
105 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science and T echnology, Subcommittee on Space Science Applications,
Com m ercialization of Land and Weather Satellites, committee print, prepared by the Congressional Research Service,
98th Cong., 1st sess., June 1983.
106 “No funds made available by this act, or any other act, may be used ... by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administrat ion to transfer the ownership of any meteorological satellite (MET SAT ) or associated ground system to any
private entity.” Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies Appropriation Act,
1984 (P.L. 98-166).
107 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science and T echnology, Transfer of Civil Meteorological Satellites, report to
accompany H.Con.Res. 168, 98th Cong., 1st sess., November 8, 1983, Report No. 98 -509.
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Stakeholder Perspectives on Landsat Privatization in the 1980s
The larger context for the future of Landsat was, in part, a dispute over whether the satel ite served primarily
public or private interests. Landsat provided the government with data for scientific research, managing federal
lands, and carrying out other responsibilities. It also provided data with direct economic value for managing private
lands, or for exploration for oil, gas, and minerals. The argument over Landsat’s future concerned which use was
more important.
Some Landsat proponents supported the move to privatization, in part because of fears that the Reagan
Administration would cancel the program altogether. Proponents also were concerned that uncertainty over the
program’s future would forestal investment in hardware and software necessary to process Landsat data. In
addition, Landsat supporters argued that privatization would ensure continuity of the data—an important feature
of time-series observational data from satel ites general y, al owing data users to analyze changes over time.
Supporters argued that privatization eventual y would result in a lower price for Landsat data.
Sources: Ray A. Wil iamson, “The Landsat Legacy: Remote Sensing Policy and the Development of Commercial
Remote Sensing,” Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, vol. 63, no. 7 (July 1997), pp. 877-885.
It was recognized at the time that the market for Landsat products was smal and the customer
base grew smal er each time the price of Landsat data rose. The price of a Landsat image rose
300% in 1981, when the Office of Management and Budget directed that operating costs would
be recovered by data sales.108 Sales shrank again when NOAA took over full responsibility for the
program in 1983 and raised prices for Landsat data to cover its costs and to prepare customers for
commercial prices.109
Despite these indicators that the commercial market for Landsat data was not robust, Congress
gave its support to privatization by passing the Land Remote Sensing Commercialization Act of
1984 (P.L. 98-365). The law established broad policy and financial requirements for the transfer
and authorized the Department of Commerce to license private remote sensing space systems that
complied with provisions of the act.110 The law required operators to make available unenhanced
Landsat data to al users on a nondiscriminatory basis; no preference could be given to one class
of data buyers over another.
The Land Remote Sensing Commercialization Act of 1984, which sought to privatize and recoup
the costs of the national investment in Landsat, resulted in exponential cost increases for Landsat
data, with images costing up to $4,400 each. Although computing power and the use of
geographic information systems (GIS) were increasing, orders for Landsat imagery were
decreasing—primarily due to the higher costs. These costs prompted some scientists to migrate to
other, coarser-resolution datasets, such as NOAA’s Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer.
Because the market for remote sensing data was considered underdeveloped in 1984, the federal
government decided to provide a $250 mil ion subsidy to the Earth Observation Satel ite
Company (EOSAT), which NOAA selected to operate the Landsat system. EOSAT would use the
subsidy, in addition to its capital, to develop two new spacecraft, Landsat 6 and Landsat 7, which
would replace the then-operating Landsat 4 and Landsat 5. In addition to the $250 mil ion
subsidy, the federal government would pay launch costs for the two new satel ites and would

108 Williamson, “Landsat Legacy.”
109 Williamson, “Landsat Legacy.”
110 See out-of-print CRS Issue Brief IB92092, U.S. Civil Earth Observation Programs: Landsat, Mission to Planet
Earth, and the Weather Satellites
, by David P. Radzanowski, available from Anna Normand to congressional clients on
request.
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continue to cover operational costs for the Landsat program through the expected lifetimes of
Landsats 4 and 5.111
The Reagan Administration decided not to fulfil the original funding obligation to EOSAT, and
several years of dispute ensued between the Administration and Congress over Landsat funding.
Ultimately, the contract was revised to require the development of only Landsat 6, despite earlier
agreement that two satel ites would be needed to ensure data continuity.112 The funding dispute
led to further debates over the future of the Landsat program. Complicating the debate were
different views about which launch vehicle should carry the next Landsats into orbit; EOSAT
proposed that the satel ite be designed for the space shuttle, but the Reagan Administration
disagreed. NOAA instructed EOSAT to prepare the spacecraft for launch on an expendable
rocket.113
Outcome and Lessons Learned
The Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992 (P.L. 102-555) ultimately resolved the issues of
whether and how to privatize the Landsat system, which federal agency should be responsible for
the system, and how public and private funding and operations should be combined. The act
transferred Landsat program management from the Department of Commerce to NASA and the
Department of the Interior (DOI), which effectively ended nearly a decade of debate over
privatizing Landsat.
Although the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992 reversed the privatization track for
Landsat and returned the satel ite system to the federal government, the act also authorized the
Secretary of Commerce to license operators of private remote sensing space systems.114 It
al owed the operators to use their data as they wish, including choosing their customers and
offering their data at prices that vary by customer. Some analysts regard this licensing provision
under Subtitle VI of the act as perhaps the most important provision for fostering commercial
remote sensing prospects in the United States.115 Further, the development of technology to
download, store, and distribute remotely sensed data contributed to commercial interests’ ability
to add value to satel ite data. The advent and rapid growth of GIS have spurred an explosion of
interest in the use of geospatial information, which typical y includes land remote sensing data
from space (e.g., Google Earth).
Recognizing Landsat as a Public Good
Whereas weather satel ites were quickly identified as a public good during the 1983 debate,
Landsat proved more difficult to categorize. One distinction is that NOAA has long had a clear
mandate to provide satel ite data for weather services. In contrast, NOAA was selected to manage
the Landsat program because of the agency’s success with operating the weather satel ites and as
an interim step en route to privatizing Landsat. The relatively unclear mandate for collecting land

111 See out-of-print CRS Issue Brief IB92092, U.S. Civil Earth Observation Programs: Landsat, Mission to Planet
Earth, and the Weather Satellites
, by David P. Radzanowski, available from Anna Normand to congressional clients on
request.
112 See out-of-print CRS Report 87-477, Privatization of the Landsat Remote Sensing Satellite System: Current Issues,
by Marcia S. Smith, available from Anna Normand to congressional clients on request.
113 T he Reagan Administration disagreed that Landsat 6 should be designed for the space shuttle in part because of the
1986 Challenger accident, which grounded the space shuttle fleet.
114 P.L. 102-555, Subtitle VI.
115 Williamson, “Landsat Legacy.”
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surface remote sensing data at NOAA also may have eroded customer confidence in the Landsat
system and in NOAA’s commitment to developing infrastructure, training personnel, and making
other investments that would have bolstered the market for Landsat products.116
Differing views of the Landsat program’s nature—namely, whether the satel ites served public or
private interests—shaped the outcome of the privatization effort.117 Evolving views over the
public or private nature of the program were influenced by factors other than funding. One
observer identified four factors:118
1. Landsat data proved important in planning U.S. military operations in the
1992 Gulf War.
2. Other countries had launched similar land remote sensing satel ites, and
these spacecraft—particularly the French SPOT satel ite—were
perceived as possible chal enges to the U.S. stake in the international
market for remote sensing data.119
3. Growing interest in global climate change and its effects on the Earth’s
surface led scientists to increasingly value time-series data from a
consistent platform in space for identifying environmental changes.
4. The difficulties of commercializing the Landsat system became clear,
and federal agencies perceived that private companies might not be able
to provide equivalent data at the scale the agencies required.
These and other factors led Congress to accept the idea of Landsat as a public good and to enact
the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992. One other factor, for example, was the cost of
Landsat images. The Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992 found that “the cost of Landsat
data has impeded the use of such data for scientific purposes, such as for global environmental
change research, as wel as for other public-sector applications.” Consequently, the act
established, with some restrictions, that unenhanced data from Landsat should be made available
“at the cost of fulfil ing user requests,” or COFUR. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
extended the COFUR policy to al Landsat data products in its Landsat Data Distribution Policy,
which also stated that pricing would not be based on the recovery of capital costs of satel ites,
ground systems, or other capital assets previously paid for by the U.S. government. The current
USGS policy is to make al Landsat imagery and data available at no cost and without restriction.

116 Williamson, “Landsat Legacy.”
117 Williamson, “Landsat Legacy.”
118 Williamson, “Landsat Legacy.”
119 However, images from SPOT also were deemed extremely important for coalition forces during the Gulf War.
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Appendix B. International Collaboration
The Landsat program has catalyzed international collaboration in various forms. For example,
international partners downlink and share Landsat data from their international ground stations,
and NASA and the USGS find areas of compatibility between Landsat and other national and
multinational observation programs (e.g., the European Space Agency’s [ESA’s] Copernicus
Program Sentinel-2 constel ation) that also provide collected data as free and open access.120
International Ground Stations
In early Landsat missions, the USGS relied on a network of international ground stations,
operated by cooperator nations, to downlink and store Landsat images due to inadequate Landsat
satel ite onboard data storage and limited receiving capacity.121 These international cooperators
partnered with the Landsat program and paid an annual fee for reception and data distribution
rights. While the USGS maintained its Landsat data archive at the Earth Resources Observation
and Science (EROS) Center in Sioux Fal s, SD, international cooperators simultaneously built
their own regional archives, processing and distributing data according to their own policies.122
Over time, more than 50 ground stations received Landsat data.123 In 2006, the USGS recognized
that the volume of Landsat data held by international cooperators (an estimated 4 mil ion images)
far exceeded that held by the USGS Landsat archive (an estimated 1.9 mil ion images).124 Much
of the data held international y are unique, relative to each station’s area of coverage.
In 2010, the USGS started the U.S. Landsat Global Archive Consolidation program to repatriate
Landsat data missing from the U.S. archive but stored at international cooperator ground
stations.125 Following repatriation to EROS, the USGS reprocesses the data to current collection
standards and provides the processed images at no cost to the international ground stations and
the global user community. The initiative had acquired and reprocessed more than 5 mil ion
images by November 2019, increasing the Landsat archive’s coverage equivalent to the launch of
an additional Landsat mission and expanding the historical spatial coverage (see Figure B-1).126
The initiative continues, as the USGS works with foreign ground stations to retrieve datasets and
develops tools and methods to adapt their often-archaic data formats into the archive at EROS.

120 Sam N. Goward et al., Landsat’s Enduring Legacy: Pioneering Global Land Observations from Space (Bethesda,
MD: American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 2017).
121 Michael Wulder et al., “T he Global Landsat Archive: Status, Consolidation, and Direction,” Remote Sensing of
Environm ent
, vol. 185 (November 2016), pp. 271-283, at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/
S0034425715302194. Hereinafter Wulder et al., “ Global Landsat Archive.”
122 Wulder et al., “Global Landsat Archive.”
123 Wulder et al., “Global Landsat Archive.”
124 Wulder et al., “Global Landsat Archive.”
125 Wulder et al., “Global Landsat Archive.”
126 USGS, Landsat Missions, “ Landsat Global Archive Consolidation,” at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/
landsat/landsat-global-archive-consolidation.
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Figure B-1. Landsat Global Archive Consolidation Images


Source: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Landsat Missions, “Landsat Global Archive Consolidation,” accessed on
August 10, 2020, at https://www.usgs.gov/land-resources/nli/landsat/landsat-global-archive-consolidation.
Notes: The heat maps show how many images the USGS has repatriated into the Earth Resources Observation
and Science (EROS) Center archives from international ground stations.
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Sentinel-2 Constellation
ESA’s Copernicus Earth Observation Program launched Sentinel-2A in 2015 and Sentinel-2B in
2017, which share many of the technical characteristics of Landsat 8.127 The Sentinel-2
constel ation has a wider swath (covering 290 kilometers) than Landsat 8 (covering 185
kilometers), thus providing a routine five-day revisit over Earth’s land areas.128 Unlike Landsat 8,
Sentinel-2 satel ites do not have thermal infrared capability. Sentinel-2 satel ites provide features
unique from Landsat: red-edge and water vapor spectral bands and higher spatial resolution
visible to shortwave infrared bands (10-meter and 20-meter bands compared with Landsat’s 30-
meter bands).129
Figure B-2. Comparison of Landsat 7 and 8 Bands with Sentinel-2 Bands

Source: USGS, “Comparison of Landsat 7 and 8 Bands with Sentinel-2,” at https://www.usgs.gov/media/images/
comparison-landsat-7-and-8-bands-sentinel-2.
Notes: ETM+ = Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus; MSI = Multispectral Instrument; m = meter; nm = nanometer;
OLI = Operational Land Imager; TIRS = Thermal Infrared Sensor. The figure shows the specific placement of the
Sentinel-2A bands, as compared with Landsat 7 and 8 bands. The main visible and near-infrared Sentinel-2A
bands have a spatial resolution of 10 meters, and its red-edge (red and near-infrared bands) and two shortwave
infrared bands have a 20-meter spatial resolution. The coastal/aerosol, water vapor, and cirrus bands have a
spatial resolution of 60 meters.
NASA, the USGS, and ESA have collaborated to demonstrate areas of compatibility between
Landsat 8 and Sentinel-2 measurements. The combined coverage of Landsat 8, Sentinel-2A, and
Sentinel-2B provides a global median average revisit interval of 2.9 days.130 This revisit

127 T he European Space Agency conducted a block buy of four Sentinel-2 imagers and has two imagers in reserve,
ready to be launched when needed. USGS, “ USGS EROS Archive - Sentinel-2,” at https://www.usgs.gov/centers/eros/
science/usgs-eros-archive-sentinel-2.
128 Wulder et al., “Current Status of Landsat.”
129 USGS, “ USGS EROS Archive - Sentinel-2,” at https://www.usgs.gov/centers/eros/science/usgs-eros-archive-
sentinel-2.
130 Jian Li and David P. Roy, “Global Analysis of Sentinel-2A, Sentinel-2B and Landsat-8 Data Revisit Intervals and
Implicat ions for T errestrial Monitoring,” Rem ote Sensing of the Environm ent, vol. 9, no. 9 (2017), at https://doi.org/
10.3390/rs9090902.
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frequency improves mapping processes that are highly dynamic in time, including vegetation
phenology, fire dynamics, and water quality. With the launch of Landsat 9, the combined Landsat
and Sentinel-2 constel ation wil approach a two-day global median average revisit cycle.131 This
resulting virtual constel ation of satel ites is an example of a system of systems, cal ed for in the
recent decadal strategy for the Earth observation from space.132 The free and open data-sharing
policies of both programs facilitate such a virtual constel ation; the Sustainable Land Imaging
Program may consider similar collaboration with other international programs as other
governments launch more satel ites.

Author Information

Anna E. Normand

Analyst in Natural Resources Policy



Disclaimer
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan
shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and
under the direction of Congress. Information in a CRS Report should n ot be relied upon for purposes other
than public understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in
connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the United States Government, are not
subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be reproduced and distributed in
its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include copyrighted images or
material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you wish to
copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.


131 Wulder et al., “Current Status of Landsat.”
132 Zhe Zhu et al., “Benefits of the Free and Open Landsat Data Policy,” Remote Sensing of Environment, vol. 224
(April 2019), pp. 382-385, at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2019.02.016; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering,
and Medicine, Thriving on Our Changing Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation from Space, 2018, at
https://doi.org/10.17226/24938.
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