WASHINGTON — The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM), the eighth in a series of Earth-orbiting satellites that have been observing the planet since 1972, returned its first images from space on March 18, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said in a joint press release.

LDCM’s two main instruments, the Operational Land Imager and Thermal Infrared Sensor, simultaneously captured an image of the intersection of the United States’ Great Plains and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Wyoming and Colorado, according to the March 21 press release. Images were processed by the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“We are very excited about this first collection of simultaneous imagery,” said Jim Irons, LDCM project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “These images confirm we have two healthy, functioning sensors that survived the rigors of launch and insertion into Earth orbit.”

LDCM launched Feb. 11 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket. The spacecraft is orbiting at 705 kilometers, slightly lower than its planned operational orbit, according to the press release.

LDCM was assembled by Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp., which also provided its spacecraft bus. The satellite’s medium-resolution Operational Land Imager, built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colo., cost about $188 million. The Thermal Infrared Sensor, built at Goddard, cost about $160 million.

Last year, the government accountability office estimated LDCM would cost $930 million to build, launch and operate in space for five years.

NASA manages construction of Landsat spacecraft, which are operated by the USGS. LDCM will be renamed Landsat 8 in May, when NASA is scheduled to turn over operations to USGS.



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Dan Leone is the NASA reporter for SpaceNews, where he also covers other civilian-run U.S. government space programs and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He joined SpaceNews in 2011.Dan earned a bachelor's degree in public communications...