NASA Set To Launch Water-Monitoring Satellite


The eighth Landsat satellite launches on Monday. It will measure water quality and quantity.

NASA landsat satellite water food forests

Photo © NASA/VAFB
Technicians load NASA’s Landsat satellite at a processing facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. On Monday, the eighth satellite in the Landsat series will be launched, to continue the space agency’s program of monitoring terrestrial water, food, and forests.

Two years ago NASA retired its iconic workhorse, the space shuttle. The agency’s scientific mission, however, did not expire, and the agency marks a milestone on Monday with the launch of the eighth version of the Landsat satellite, an essential tool for monitoring the nation’s water resources.

Lifted into orbit by a Saturn V rocket, the satellite will carry two instruments. One, the Operational Land Imager, will track changes in water quality in lakes.

The other instrument measures thermal energy. It will give water managers in the western United States a better sense of how much water irrigated crops are using, said Tony Willardson, the executive director of the Western States Water Council, a body appointed by the governors of the 18 western states.

“The state of Idaho is a pioneer for using that data to measure evapotranspiration from crops,” Willardson told Circle of Blue. “It’s a promising technology for improving water management. It gives more precise measurements of water use.”

Data from the mission, a collaboration between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), will be freely available to the public.

“For decades, Landsat has played an important part in NASA’s mission to advance Earth system science. [Landsat 8] promises to extend and expand that capability,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. “USGS’s policy of offering free and open access to the phenomenal 40-year Landsat data record will continue to give the United States and global research community a better understanding of the changes occurring on our planet.”

NASA is also a partner in the Aquarius mission, which uses satellite measurements of salt content in the oceans to understand better the global water cycle.

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