A fleet of picture-snapping NASA satellites that for 40 years has documented forest fires, tsunamis and everyday changes in the Earth’s geography will soon get a new member.

With Landsat 8 set for a February launch, nearly 140 scientists and engineers from more than 25 countries are scheduled to gather in South Dakota next week to discuss how to best download, process and distribute the millions of data-rich images used in agriculture, education, business and government.

Since 1972, Landsat satellites have been continuously snapping pictures across the globe as part of a 40-year mission to document the planet.

But with Landsat 7 aging and its older sibling Landsat 5 failing, a new orbiter is needed to continue the long-term data record, said Jenn Sabers, remote sensing branch chief at the US Geological Survey Center for Earth Resources Observations and Science.

“One of the things we want to do is preserve that legacy by ensuring that we collect consistent data with the prior missions,” Sabers said. “Although we have that consistency, we also want to make improvements.”

The USGS Center for EROS, located in the middle of farmland north of Sioux Falls, is the main federal repository for satellite images.

Members of the Landsat Technical Working Group will gather at the centre next week to discuss how to best use the data-packed photos from the new orbiter, which will be known as Landsat 8 once it reaches space. The team, which provides scientific and technical input to the US Geological Survey and NASA, will plan how to establish reception, processing and distribution capabilities from the new satellite.

Landsat satellites help document calamities, such as forest fires and hurricanes, as well as mapping the world’s mangrove forests and tracking ice in the Antarctic. The images differ from programs such as Google Earth, as you can’t see individual homes, but are able to see larger things, such as highways, NASA says.

(This article was published on September 22, 2012)
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