Vandenberg Air Force Base

Here's What to Know About the Earth-Observing Satellite Launched From the California Coast

The Tuesday launch, the 2,000th from Vandenberg Space Force Base northwest of Santa Barbara, sent a Landsat-9 satellite into orbit.

An Atlas V rocket on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
NASA

An Atlas V rocket carried an Earth observation satellite into orbit Monday after launching from the California coast. 

The Vandenberg Space Force Base launch was the 2,000th from the base about 60 miles northwest of Santa Barbara. Views of the launch of the Landsat-9 satellite were limited due to low clouds in Southern California.

“The 2000th launch gives us the opportunity to celebrate the thousands of people from Team Vandenberg, past and present, who share a proud heritage beginning with the first launch in 1958 through this 2,000th launch. Space—and launch—is hard.  Our record of success is a testament to longstanding mission excellence,” said Col. Robert Long, Space Launch Delta 30 commander.

The base launched its first mille in December 1958. The next 1,999 launches included missile space program launches.

As for the satellite launched into space, it is the latest in a series of U.S. satellites that has recorded human and natural impacts on Earth’s surface for decades The satellite successfully separated from the rocket's upper stage more than an hour later.

A project of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, Landsat 9 will work in tandem with a predecessor, Landsat 8, to extend a nearly 50-year record of land and coastal region observations that began with the launch of the first Landsat in 1972.

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Landsat 9 will take the orbital track of Landsat 7, which will be decommissioned.

Landsat 9 carries an imaging sensor that will record visible and other portions of the spectrum. It also has a thermal sensor to measure surface temperatures.

Capturing changes in the planet’s landscape ranging from the growth of cities to the movements of glaciers, the Landsat program is the longest continuous record of Earth observation from space, according to NASA.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who went to Vandenberg to see the launch, said the Landsat program provides “a rich form of data” that helps people’s everyday lives and is vital in dealing with climate change.

“We’re in the thick of the climate crisis right now, we see that every day — drought, wildfires, hurricanes, Hurricane Ida that devastated parts of the South and went all the way up to New England,” Haaland said during a NASA TV interview.

“Images like the ones that Landsat 9 will bring back to us will help us tremendously to guide us in how we are approaching climate change, working to make sure that we can make the best decisions possible, so that folks have water into the future, that we can grow our food into the future,” Haaland said.

The Landsat program has amassed over 9 million multispectral images of Earth’s land and coastal regions, according to Jeff Masek, Landsat 9 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“Using this record we can really document and understand the changes that have occurred to the land environment over this period from human activities as well as natural events,” he said at a prelaunch briefing.

The information has a wide array of uses in understanding and managing Earth’s resources.

“Landsat is our best source for understanding rates of tropical deforestation ... as well as other forest dynamics like disturbances from hurricanes, wildfires, insect outbreaks, as well as the recovery of those disturbances over time,” Masek said.

Landsat is also crucial for monitoring agriculture and food security, he said.

“We can pinpoint the types of crops that are growing on every field in the U.S. and worldwide,” he said. “We can also look at the consumption of water by crops.”

Landsat 9’s liftoff was the 2,000th launch from Vandenberg since 1958. Located on the Pacific coast northwest of Los Angeles, its position is ideal for testing ballistic missiles and putting satellites into polar orbit.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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