The U.S. Geological Survey is making preparations to control the next U.S. Landsat imaging spacecraft at its Sioux Falls, S.D., facility, the Center for Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS), instead of through the existing Landsat mission operations center at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

The change will be made shortly after the 2011 launch of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission satellite, unofficially known as Landsat 8, according to USGS officials, and

planning for the shift, which was decided earlier this year, is underway.

“We’ll put out a request for proposals this fall for the [contractor] flight operations team, and make the award in 2008,” said Ray Byrnes, the USGS liaison with NASA on the jointly

funded Landsat 8 program.

A decision has not yet been made on where to locate the backup mission operations center for Landsat 8, Byrnes said.

The EROS Center already has a major role in U.S. remote sensing as a data management, systems development, and research field center. It also serves as the national archive of remote sensing imagery, particularly land imaging data. Data from numerous spacecraft are stored there, including Landsat imagery, data from aircraft and high resolution multispectral data from the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer

instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite, a cooperative effort between NASA and Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

According to the center’s W

eb site, data from the archives has been used to study natural and man-made disasters including the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, flooding on the Missouri River, the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear reactor accidents, Hurricane Mitch and Operation Desert Storm.

NASA is the lead agency for the Landsat 8 mission development, and is procuring the Landsat 8 satellite frame, instrument, and rocket launch. USGS is in charge of preparing most of the ground elements and will control the satellite after launch.

USGS officials are studying whether they will need to add a new antenna or perform other upgrades at their Earth Resources and Observation Science (EROS)

Center in Sioux Falls to accommodate the Landsat 8 mission operations center, Byrnes said.

The existing control chain for Landsat 7, the primary remaining U.S. Landsat spacecraft, is more complicated than USGS officials would like. The mission operations center is located at Goddard, where officials from Honeywell Technology Solutions Inc. of Columbia, Md., have a contract with USGS to control the spacecraft.

Commands are written at Goddard, sent to the EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, and uplinked via antenna to Landsat 7.

The center was founded in 1971 to receive, process, and distribute data from Landsat satellites and imagery collected by aircraft for the USGS and other agencies. The original 115,000-square-foot building was completed in 1973 for $6 million. In March 1996, the Center completed a 65,000-square-foot addition for $9 million to house equipment and people for work with data from NASA’s Earth Observing System and Landsat 7.

The center is staffed by USGS employees and employees from private industry. According to the center’s Web site about 10 percent of the employees are federal civil servants. The largest contractors are SAIC and SGT, which provide professional and technical services that include employees with expertise in Earth science, computer science and satellite systems engineering.

EROS is best known for receiving and archiving imagery from Landsat 7, Landsat 5, and the previous Landsat spacecraft, and for distributing the imagery to scientists and land-management customers.

Last year, EROS staff recommended streamlining the control process by moving the Landsat mission operations center to Sioux Falls for Landsat 8.

If Landsat 7 and Landsat 5 are still operating when Landsat 8 is launched, they most likely would be controlled from their existing centers, Byrnes said.

USGS hired one of the U.S. Federally Funded Research and Development Centers that specializes in aerospace issues

to review the EROS proposal, and that review concurred that “there are some clear cost advantages,” Byrnes said.

“It was just another set of eyes to look at the recommendation,” said Quirk, who declined to name the organization

that made the assessment.

R.J. Thompson,

director of the EROS

Center, said the change will improve communications among the Landsat team and cut costs by co-locating the ground station with the command and control staff and those in charge of archiving and distributing the imagery.

“Now you’ve got folks working across the hall from each other instead of across the country,” he said.

Ed Grigsby, NASA’s program executive for Landsat 8 at the agency’s headquarters, said NASA had no objections to USGS controlling Landsat 8 from the EROS Center because the decision is in keeping with each agency’s role on the program.

NASA will not be completely out of the ground work segment, however. NASA will be in charge of procuring the Landsat 8 mission operations element which consists of the software that will control and maintain the satellite and its imaging instrument. That software will be loaded onto the satellite and into computers inside the mission operations center. The flight operations team selected by USGS will use the mission operations element to control Landsat 8.

Byrnes said the mission operations element is so intrinsically linked to the spacecraft and instrument designs that it made sense for NASA to lead that procurement with funds from USGS.

The request for proposal for that element is scheduled for release in late 2007 with an award in mid 2008, said Mike Headley, the USGS project manager for the ground segment.

Center for Earth Resources Observation and Science at a Glance


Sioux Falls, S.D.


R.J. Thompson

Parent Agency:

United States Geological Survey


U.S. archive of remotely sensed images of Earth. Receives, stores and distributes land-cover images from Landsat satellites and develops tools and products for land monitoring, fire management and climate studies.



Annual Budget:

Just under $80 million

Employees (contractor and government):


Web Site: