* Spacecraft used to assess natural, man-made impacts on
* Part of 40-year-old program
* Commercial users include Google, insurance industry
By IRENE KLOTZ
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Feb 11 - A new satellite to
keep tabs on Earth's changing landscape rocketed into orbit on
Monday, ensuring continuation of a 40-year-old photo archive
documenting urban sprawl, glacial melting, natural disasters and
other environmental shifts.
The eighth and most sophisticated Landsat spacecraft blasted
off at 1:02 p.m. EST (1802 GMT) aboard an unmanned Atlas 5
rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch
was broadcast on NASA Television.
The so-called Landsat Data Continuity Mission, or LDCM, will
join the sole operational 14-year-old Landsat 7 spacecraft in
providing visible and infrared images from an orbital perch 438
miles (705 km) above Earth.
The satellites circle the planet every 99 minutes, relaying
pictures showing details down to about the size of a baseball
The images, which are distributed at no charge, are used by
federal, state and local governments and planning boards
worldwide to monitor crops, assess damage from fires, floods and
other natural disasters as well as to track coastlines,
glaciers and other areas impacted by global warming.
"LDCM will continue to describe the human impact on Earth
and the impact of Earth on humanity, which is vital for
accommodating 7 billion people on our planet," project manager
Ken Schwer, with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland,
told reporters during a preflight press conference.
Monitoring food production, for example, is essential to
sustaining Earth's growing population, added Thomas Loveland, a
senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, which is
partnered with NASA on the Landsat program.
"Our federal programs that map the type and extent of crops
needed to understand what the food supply will be and the impact
on the market will benefit greatly from this," Loveland said.
Landsat's commercial customers include Google,
which uses the images in its popular virtual Google Earth
program, and the insurance industry which, for example, taps
Landsat data to assess risk exposure to wildfires in the western
United States and gauge crop production.
The Landsat program has been providing imagery since the
first satellite's launch in 1972. LDCM was built by Orbital
Once operational, the satellite, which cost NASA $855
million, is expected to relay 400 images per day to ground
stations in South Dakota, Alaska and Norway.
The Atlas rocket is manufactured and launched by United
Launch Alliance, a joint partnership of Boeing and