April Flowers for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The new Guinness World’s Record title for “longest-operating Earth observation satellite” has been set by NASA’s Landsat 5, according to an email from Guinness World Records to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Landsat 5 has delivered high quality, global data of Earth’s land surface for 28 years and 10 months, outliving its three-year design life.
The satellite was launched from Vandenberg Air Force base in Lompoc, California on March 1, 1984. Landsat 4 and Landsat 5 were built at the same time, with identical instrument payloads: the Multispectral Scanner System (MSS) and the Thematic Mapper (TM).
All of the Landsat satellites have been managed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) as part of the Landsat Program. Landsat 5 completed over 150,000 orbits and sent back more than 2.5 million images of Earth´s surface before it was announced on Dec. 21, 2012 it would be decommissioned in the coming months after the failure of a redundant gyroscope. The satellite carries three gyroscopes for attitude control and requires two to maintain control.
“This is the end of an era for a remarkable satellite, and the fact that it flew for almost three decades is a testament to the NASA engineers who launched it and the USGS team who kept it flying well beyond its expected lifetime,” said Anne Castle, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science.
Landsat 5 was originally designed to be retrievable by the space shuttle, and so was equipped with extra fuel, which kept the satellite operating for much longer than anticipated after the space shuttle retrieval plan was scuttled.
Landsat 5 faced more than twenty technical issues throughout its life in the harsh environment of space. Parts gave in to wear and age, but the USGS Flight Operations team found engineering and operational fixes to work around such problems as losing batteries, star trackers, and on-board data recording capability.
“The efforts of the Landsat team were heroic. Landsat 5 could not have lasted so long without the dedication and devotion of the USGS flight operations team that overcame a number of difficult technical challenges over the last 12 years,” said Jim Irons, LDCM project scientist.
Not only did they keep the satellite going, said Irons, but in doing so, “Landsat 5 saved the Landsat program. This satellite’s longevity preserved the Landsat program through the loss of Landsat 6 in 1993, preventing the specter of a data gap before the launch of Landsat 7 in 1999.”
The Landsat program continues to provide data used across the United States and the world for agricultural and forest monitoring and water resource management, among many other environmental applications.
Landsat 7 is still operational, but NASA launched the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) on Feb 11, 2013. Two new instruments are aboard the LDCM, the Operational Land Imager and the Thermal Infrared Sensor, which will collect data that are compatible with data from Landsat 5 and 7. These instruments improve upon the data from earlier satellites with advanced instrument designs that are more sensitive to land surface changes.
Continuing the Landsat program’s 40-year data record of monitoring Earth from space, the LDCM will be renamed Landsat 8 after it is extensively tested and certified for its mission.