I am writing to applaud you for the four articles in [the Oct. 31] edition on the Landsat situation. All spoke the truth eloquently and well.
The article by Mr. Singer [“Wanted: Better Broad Area Imagery,” page 4A] that outlined Pentagon official s’ concern that the current White House Landsat replacement plan for a single satellite as part of NPOESS (National Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellite System) or separately was especially important since the Pentagon has not been heard from on this issue in public before. The fact that they pointed out the German commercial smallsat constellation (RapidEye) as a “better idea” is especially important and is in concert with Dr. Sam Goward’s article in the same issue [“Landsat 2005: Time To Act,” Commentary, page 17].
Dr. Goward, who was the chair of the Landsat Science Team, noted “our experience in working with large volumes of Landsat data … has quickly taught us that one sensor of this class (30-meter spatial resolution, 16-day repeat views) is not enough. … At the end of the day, we really do not simply want another Landsat.” He also noted that one of the significant advantages of using smallsats is that their costs are well below that experienced or currently estimated for a single Landsat. I am sure he based his remark on the published RapidEye investment for the building and launch of their five satellites of about $150 million.
Recent statements from the Office of Science and Technology Policy seem to confirm that in their opinion Landsat’s broad-area coverage is an important national asset and must be continued.
I believe the messages quoted above make it very clear that both the scientific and defense communities will not be satisfied with a single Landsat look-alike satellite and that both believe that they can have the coverage they need for less cost than such a look-alike would require.
Unfortunately NASA seems to be focusing on the single satellite approach and is not considering the potential of the smallsat technology that has been used by 10 foreign countries to launch 5 land-imaging satellites to date, and initiate plans for 11 more systems to be launched in the next five years.
One can only hope that if given the chance to continue the Landsat legacy, NASA will provide industry with a request for proposals that will reflect the current requirements of the scientific and defense communities and will let the bidders offer solutions, single or multiple satellites, that will provide the best bang for the buck.
William E Stoney
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Stoney served as NASA’s Director of Earth Observations for the first 7 years of the Landsat Program and has been involved in Landsat study and advisory activities since then.]