March 2, 2009

NASA celebrates Landsat 5 anniversary

The U.S. space agency says it's celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Landsat 5 satellite, which was launched March 1, 1984, and is still in operation.

Now 22 years beyond its three-year primary mission lifetime, Landsat 5 -- built by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey -- is also well beyond its design lifetime of 15,000 Earth orbits.

NASA said Landsat 5 is one of seven satellites in the Landsat Program but only Landsat 5 and 7, the latter launched in 1999, are functioning.

With the launch failure of the privately built Landsat 6 in 1993 and the launch of Landsat 7 in 1999, scientists would have had a 12-year gap in observations if Landsat 5 had only lasted for its primary mission lifetime, said Darrel Williams, Landsat project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Such a gap would have been a scientific disaster.

The next NASA land surface imaging satellite is scheduled for launch in December 2012.