NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) moved one step closer to launch on Monday, Nov. 22, after a team of engineers fastened the payload fairing containing its host satellite to a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 551 rocket. Launch is now targeted for Dec. 5, 2021, due to inclement weather during launch vehicle processing.
Teams at Astrotech Space Operations Payload Processing Facility in Titusville, Florida, spent several weeks preparing the satellite before moving it to the United Launch Alliance’s Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) for the lift and mate operations.
Inside the VIF, a team of engineers fastened the payload fairing, which houses the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft. LCRD is hosted on STPSat-6. The mission is scheduled to launch on Dec. 5 from Launch Complex 41 on CCSFS, with a two-hour launch window beginning at 4:04 a.m. EST.
The fully stacked rocket and payload stands 196 feet tall and is anticipated to roll out on a mobile launch platform from the VIF to the launch pad on Dec. 3. The rocket’s Centaur second stage and spacecraft will remain attached until 4 minutes, 33 seconds after launch, with deployment of STPSat-6 scheduled about 6 hours, 30 minutes after launch.
NASA’s LCRD payload, hosted on STPSat-6, is about the size of a king-sized mattress and seeks to make operational laser communications a reality. As space missions generate and collect more data, higher bandwidth communications technologies are needed to bring data home, and laser communications systems offer higher bandwidth in a smaller package that uses less power. LCRD will send and receive data over infrared lasers at approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth.
LCRD is led by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Partners include NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. LCRD is funded through NASA’s Technology Demonstration Missions program, part of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, and the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program at NASA Headquarters.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is now targeting Dec. 4 to launch the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, which hosts NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD). The two-hour launch window runs 4:04 – 6:04 a.m. EST. STPSat-6 is part of the Space Test Program 3, or STP-3, mission which will launch on a ULA Atlas V 551 rocket from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The LCRD technology demonstration is testing an enhanced communication capability called laser communications, which will enable space missions to generate and collect more data. The payload is the size of a king size mattress and will send and receive data via infrared lasers at approximately 1.2 gigabits per second from geosynchronous orbit to Earth. Laser communications systems offer higher bandwidth in a smaller package that uses less power.
NASA’s Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will launch aboard the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) Space Test Program Satellite-6 (STPSat-6) spacecraft, targeted for Monday, Nov. 22, 2021 on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket from Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The LCRD technology demonstration is a step towards making operational laser, or optical, communications a reality. As space missions generate and collect more data, higher bandwidth communications technologies are needed to send it all back home. Laser communications will significantly benefit missions by increasing bandwidth 10 to 100 times more than radio frequency systems.
LCRD will implement various laser experiments to test the technology’s functionality and capabilities. Technology demonstrations like LCRD will enable the use of laser communications systems for future missions as NASA works to establish a robust presence on the Moon and prepares for crewed missions to Mars.
STPSat-6 is part of the third Space Test Program, or STP-3. To learn more about STP-3, visit: www.ulalaunch.com.
After a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket successfully carried the Landsat 9 spacecraft into orbit from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Sept. 27, the satellite now joins Landsat 8 in orbit and replaces Landsat 7, launched in 1999.
Landsat 9 and Landsat 8 will collect images from across the planet every eight days. This calibrated data will continue the Landsat program’s critical role in monitoring the health of Earth and helping people manage essential resources, including crops, irrigation water, and forests.
“Landsat provides one basic set of observations that feeds an entire range of Earth science applications and research,” said NASA Landsat 9 Project Scientist Jeff Masek.
Images from Landsat 9 will be added to nearly 50 years of free and publicly available data from the mission – the longest data record of Earth’s landscapes taken from space. Landsat’s medium-resolution imaging capability allows researchers to harmonize the images to detect the footprint of human activities and their impact on our home planet over the decades.
“We have over 2,000 peer-reviewed publications every year in the scientific literature that depend on the Landsat archive,” Masek said. “Landsat is our best source for understanding rates of tropical deforestation, as well as other forest dynamics like disturbances from hurricanes, wildfires, insect outbreaks, as well as the recovery of those disturbances over time.”
As Landsat 9 orbits Earth, it captures scenes across a swath 185 kilometers (115) miles wide. Each pixel in these images is 30 meters across, or about the size of a baseball infield, which allows resource managers to resolve most crop fields in the United States. Its instruments collect images of Earth’s landscapes in visible, near and shortwave (reflected) infrared, and thermal infrared wavelengths. Like its predecessors, Landsat 9 is a joint effort of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey.
“The USGS collection data allow the science, government, civil, and international user communities to map wildfires, primary and secondary contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, ice cover persistence, melt, water clarity, water quality, floating algae biomass, landcover that’s changed, and also urban growth and the heat island effects on local and regional temperature,” said USGS Project Scientist Chris Crawford. “The USGS 5-year archive provides a highly reliable, highly stable, and high-quality terrestrial and aquatic imaging record that can enable the quantification of space and time effects of climate variability and change on both human and natural systems.”
Since the launch of the first Landsat satellite in 1972, the mission’s archive has grown to contain more than 8 million images. Landsat 9 data will add to this archive to better our understanding of Earth in innumerable ways – from tracking water use in crop fields in the western United States, to monitoring deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, to measuring the speed of Antarctic glaciers. Decision makers from across the globe use the freely available Landsat data to better understand environmental change, forecast global crop production, respond to natural disasters, and more. The usefulness of the data stems from the careful design and engineering of the satellite and the mission.
“Landsat allows us to track in near real time, and in a consistent way, changes to our planet and specifically to our agricultural lands,” said Inbal Becker-Reshef, program director of NASA Harvest, the agency’s food security and agriculture program. “One of the biggest stories of landcover change Landsat has been instrumental to reveal and to track has been the rapid deforestation in the Amazon in South America, in large part driven by agricultural expansion for pastures and croplands. Without Landsat’s historical data archive, we wouldn’t be able to track such massive land changes, which have critical implications for Earth’s ecosystems, biodiversity, and for climate.”
Landsat 9 is designed to last at least five years on orbit but has enough fuel to operate for at least 15 years, including de-orbit, though it could last for 20 or more years. Data from the satellite will become available to the public after completion of the satellite’s 100-day checkout period in January. The next Landsat mission is already in the works, with a series of planned enhancements, including higher spatial resolution, more spectral bands, and more frequent coverage, which are the highest priorities from the Landsat user communities.
The Landsat 9 satellite has separated from the Centaur second stage.
Once online, Landsat 9 will take its place as the most advanced satellite in the Landsat series and extend the data record of Earth’s land surface that began with the first Landsat satellite in 1972. Landsat’s high-quality scientific data makes multi-decadal time series studies possible, and its data are regularly used for land management efforts around the world.
The United Launch Alliance Centaur second stage achieved the desired near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit for Landsat 9 just over 16 minutes into flight. It is now coasting to the other side of the Earth to release the spacecraft just over an hour from now.
Landsat 9, powered by the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket, has lifted off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California today, Sept. 27! Launch occurred at 11:12 a.m. PDT (2:12 p.m. EDT).
The launch director has just given the Landsat 9 mission a ‘go’ for launch! Mission and launch managers are counting down to the launch of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Launch will take place less than five minutes from now.
Landsat 9 should reach the desired near-polar, sun-synchronous orbit just over 16 minutes into flight. It will then coast over an hour to the other side of Earth before the satellite is released.
In just over 15 minutes from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket carrying Landsat 9 will rumble to life, sending the NASA-U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth-monitoring satellite on its mission. The fuel fill sequence has been initiated, and the rocket is being fueled with liquid oxygen (LO2) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1).
Prior to launch, targeted for 11:12 a.m. PDT (2:12 p.m. EDT), several sequences will be performed to ensure launch success. The fuel fill sequence will be completed, water deluge system actuation pressure adjustment will be performed, the LO2 in the Atlas booster and Centaur second stage will reach flight levels, as well as the liquid hydrogen fuel levels in the Centaur. Final launch polls are conducted and before a go to continue countdown, at which time the spacecraft transfers to internal power and an automatic computer sequencer takes control for all critical events through liftoff. Fuel tanks reach flight pressure, and the Atlas first stage and Centaur second stage switch to internal power. The launch control system is enabled, and ‘go’ for launch is verified before entering terminal countdown.
Landsat 9 will join its sister satellite, Landsat 8, in orbit, collecting images from across the planet every eight days. This calibrated data will continue the Landsat program’s critical role in monitoring the health of Earth and helping people manage essential resources, including crops, irrigation water, and forests. To learn more about how NASA’s Earth science work makes a difference in people’s lives around the world every day, follow @NASAEarth on Twitter, NASA Earth on Facebook, and NASAEarth on Instagram.
Nearly 50 years after the launch of the first Landsat satellite, Landsat 9 strikes a balance using state-of-the-art technology that will collect the highest quality data ever recorded by a Landsat satellite, while still ensuring that these new measurements can be compared to those taken by previous generations of the Earth-observing satellite.
The new satellite will add more than 700 scenes of Earth to the mission’s archive each day. A near-polar orbit will allow the satellite’s sensors to image almost the entire planet every 16 days. When Landsat 9 joins Landsat 8 in orbit, the two satellites together will be able to image each swath of the globe every eight days.
The OLI-2, built by the Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation, measures in the visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared portions of the spectrum. Its images will have 15-meter (49 ft.) panchromatic and 30-meter multi-spectral spatial resolutions along a 185 km (115 miles) wide swath, covering wide areas of the Earth’s landscape while providing sufficient resolution to distinguish features like urban centers, farms, forests, and other land uses. The entire Earth falls within view once every 16 days due to Landsat 9’s near-polar orbit.
TIRS-2 measures land surface temperature in two thermal bands with a new technology that applies quantum physics to detect heat. The original TIRS instrument was added to the Landsat 8 satellite mission when it became clear that state water resource managers rely on the highly accurate measurements of Earth’s thermal energy obtained by its predecessors, Landsat 5 and Landsat 7, to track how land and water are being used. With nearly 80% of the fresh water in the western U.S. being used to irrigate crops, TIRS and TIRS-2 are invaluable tools for managing water consumption.
The instruments use Quantum Well Infrared Photodetectors (QWIPs) to detect long wavelengths of light emitted by the Earth, whose intensity depends on surface temperature. These wavelengths, called thermal infrared, are well beyond the range of human vision. QWIPs are a new, lower-cost alternative to conventional infrared technology and were developed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The QWIPs, TIRS, and TIRS-2 use are sensitive to two thermal infrared wavelength bands, helping it separate the temperature of the Earth’s surface from that of the atmosphere. Their design operates on the complex principles of quantum mechanics. Gallium arsenide semiconductor chips trap electrons in an energy state ‘well’ until the electrons are elevated to a higher state by thermal infrared light of a certain wavelength. The elevated electrons create an electrical signal that can be read out and recorded to create a digital image.