The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is seeking $53 million in 2013 to continue operating the nation’s Landsat spacecraft and disseminating their data while preparing a new ground system for the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) launching in January.

While NASA is paying for the development and launch of the $900 million LDCM mission, the USGS paying for the ground system and preparing to take over operations after the spacecraft clears its orbital checkout phase.

USGS officials had hoped to move forward this year on a proposal to take the lead on all future Landsat missions. But Congress in December shot down a $48 million White House plan to transfer the entire Landsat program to USGS, giving the agency, part of the Interior Department, just $2 million for Landsat 9 studies and suggesting the administration seek “less costly options for obtaining Landsat data.”

USGS officials said the agency is working with NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy on a plan that addresses congressional concerns. In the meantime, the USGS plans to spend only $250,000 on Landsat 9 planning efforts in 2013.

Landsat spacecraft have been gathering moderate-resolution imagery of the Earth’s land surfaces since 1972. Of the two Landsat satellites now in orbit, only Landsat 7 is returning data.

USGS said Feb. 16 that it has suspended Landsat 5 operations an additional 90 days as it continues to investigate options for the resumption of imaging.

Landsat 5 imaging operations were halted in November when a key component — an amplifier essential for transmitting imagery from the nearly 29-year-old satellite to ground receiving stations — began showing signs of imminent failure. An attempt to activate a backup amplifier proved unsuccessful, prompting the flight operations team to shift its focus to finding a way to keep collecting data using the failing primary amplifier.

“Should no significant improvement in transmitting [Thematic Mapper] data be realized, a very limited amount of transmission life would remain,” the USGS said in a statement. “In that case, [Thematic Mapper] imaging will be prioritized to collect growing season imagery over the Northern Hemisphere.”

The USGS is also looking into the possibility of reactivating Landsat 5’s Multispectral Scanner, a secondary imaging instrument that was “turned off many years ago,” according to the statement. If none of these efforts succeed in restoring Landsat 5 imaging operations, USGS will decommission the satellite by turning off all systems and lowering its orbit so that it re-enters the atmosphere.



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