Aerospace Plays Key Role in Transfer of Landsat-8 Satellite from NASA to USGS

Photo of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park taken by Landsat-8. It is false-colored for easy use by emergency personnel. (Photo: Landsat-8/ USGS)

Earlier this year, NASA transferred operational control of the Landsat-8 satellite to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The event on May 30 marked the beginning of the satellite’s mission to extend an unparalleled four-decade record of monitoring Earth’s landscape from space.

Landsat-8 is the latest in the Landsat series of remote-sensing satellites, which have been providing global coverage of landscape changes on Earth since 1972. The Landsat program is a joint partnership between NASA and USGS.

As trusted partners of both NASA and USGS, members of The Aerospace Corporation played critical roles in preparation for the timely launch of Landsat-8 in February and the transfer of operational control to USGS. Both milestones were accomplished on schedule and below the program cost baseline, accruing benefits back to both USGS and NASA that can be applied to other important national projects.

Aerospace contributions included:

— Kari Wulf and Doug Daniels, as the NASA/USGS co-leads for the transition, coordinated government execution of the myriad details required for transition of the Landsat-8 spacecraft, instruments, and ground system from NASA to USGS — from budget allocations to contractual modifications to reviewing agendas and participants. This coordination began in mid-2012 and culminated with the successful transition on May 30. These leadership roles were in addition to their respective roles since 2005, with Wulf serving as NASA Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) ground system development and test lead and Daniels serving as USGS LDCM ground system integration lead.

— Pete Phillips, as NASA LDCM mission manager, led the flight operations team in executing the safe, successful commissioning of the Landsat-8 satellite and ground system. He coordinated the documentation, test, and review of any changes to the flight and ground system baselines since launch, and was the NASA lead for the transition of mission operations processes and leadership to USGS. Prior to launch, Phillips was the LDCM operations readiness manager, ensuring the readiness of personnel, processes, and procedures for on-orbit operations. He won the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2012 for similar work performed for the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership Mission.

— Tim Meisenhelder performed a comprehensive audit of the flight operations training and certification program, enhanced the program design to incorporate lessons learned from on-orbit commissioning and meeting USGS requirements, and revised the training and certification plan to reflect the enhanced program design.

— Steve Covington, Tina Gentry, and Tom Hill conducted an independent assessment of the readiness of USGS to assume operations leadership responsibilities for Landsat-8. Additionally, Tom Hill was a member of the review board for the Post-Launch Assessment Review.

Landsat-8 carries on a long tradition of Landsat satellites that have helped the science community learn how Earth works, understand how humans are affecting it, and make wiser decisions as stewards of the planet. USGS specialists will collect at least 400 Landsat-8 scenes every day from around the world to be processed and archived at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. Landsat-8 represents a significant improvement in both data quality and collection capacity over previous Landsat satellites.