NASA’s Landsat 9 ‘Go’ For Launch

Landsat 9
Encapsulated within the United Launch Alliance (ULA) payload fairing, the Landsat 9 spacecraft undergoes final preparations before launch inside the Integrated Processing Facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Aug. 25, 2021. Photo credit: USSF 30th Space Wing/Chris Okula

With two days to go until liftoff of Landsat 9, the NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) joint mission to monitor Earth’s land and coastal regions, everything is on track for Monday’s planned launch, with the 30-minute launch window starting at 11:12 a.m. PDT (2:12 p.m. EDT).

The launch team adjusted the launch window by one minute to avoid the CloudSat and Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO) spacecraft, which are circling the globe in an orbit near the one planned for Landsat 9.

“Landsat is the ninth mission in a series, and it is an absolutely critical piece of NASA’s science portfolio,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, NASA Science Mission Directorate. “NASA has had an amazing year of science, launching a lot of technologies to Mars and deep space, and this mission is one of those dedicated to looking at our most beautiful planet.”

The U.S. Space Force’s Space Launch Delta 30 is predicting an 90% chance of favorable weather conditions for the launch. The primary weather concerns are ground winds.

The historic mission has remained on track, despite challenges from a worldwide pandemic, including current pandemic demands for medical liquid oxygen that impacted the delivery of the needed liquid nitrogen supply to Vandenberg by the Defense Logistics Agency and its supplier Airgas. Airgas converts the liquid nitrogen to gaseous nitrogen needed for launch vehicle testing and countdown sequence.

“We certainly had our challenges with the pandemic and liquid nitrogen supply chain issues causing a seven-day delay,” said Launch Director Tim Dunn of NASA’s Launch Services Program. “We’re back on track, and I’m personally thrilled to be the launch director for Landsat 9. The NASA engineers and analysts, working alongside our United Launch Alliance colleagues, take great pride in launching this mission.”

Landsat 9 is scheduled to lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center, is managing the launch.

“The 9th Landsat will contribute a great understanding of what’s happening to the surface of our Earth,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA Earth Science Division. “It will provide vital foundational knowledge. Its power is really released when we combine the data from Landsat with our other Earth science missions. The data can tell us not just what is happening, but why.”

Landsat 9, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will carry two instruments: the Operational Land Imager 2, which collects images of Earth’s landscapes in visible, near-infrared and shortwave infrared light, and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2, which measures the temperature of land surfaces.

“There’s no doubt that the Landsat mission is at the core of the Department of the Interior’s important work,” said Tanya Trujillo, assistant secretary for Water and Science that the Department of the Interior. “We work every day to protect our natural resources and cultural heritage and provide scientific information about those resources that our communities can rely on.”

When it launches, Landsat 9 will join its predecessors in helping scientists track changes to Earth’s land surfaces at a scale that shows natural and human-caused change. Currently, both Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 are in a near-polar orbit of our planet. Each satellite repeats its orbital pattern every 16 days, with the two spacecraft offset so that each spot on Earth is measured by one or the other every eight days. Landsat 9 will join Landsat 8 in orbit and will replace Landsat 7, taking its place in orbit.

“For nearly 50 years, Landsat satellites have documented Earth’s changing landscapes, said Michael Egan, Landsat 9 program executive for NASA’s Earth Science Division. “As the Earth’s population approaches 8 billion people, Landsat 9 will continue to provide consistent data about the changing land cover and land use of our planet.”

Tune in to NASA TV or the agency’s website at 10:30 a.m. PDT (1:30 p.m. EDT) Monday, or follow along right here on the mission blog, for live launch countdown coverage. Learn more about the mission at:

Hitching a Ride on Landsat 9: ELaNa 34 CubeSats Fly First Class

CuPID CubeSat ELaNa 34
Emil Atz, a Boston University mechanical engineering PhD candidate, and Jacqueline Bachrach, Boston University, mechanical engineering junior, work on the CuPID spacecraft. Photo credit: Boston University Photography/Cydney Scott

Two small research satellites that are launching as part of NASA’s 34th Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) mission promise exciting insights for the university researchers that developed them. The CubeSats will launch as secondary payloads when Landsat 9 lifts off at 11:11 a.m. PDT (2:11 p.m. EDT) Monday, Sept. 27, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Landsat 9, launching aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, is a joint mission between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey and will continue a nearly 50-year legacy of Earth-observing Landsat satellites. The two CubeSats will hitch a ride in the spacecraft’s secondary payload adapter.

The Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment (CUTE) from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Cusp Plasma Imaging Detector (CuPID) from Boston University, are shoebox-sized spacecraft, each measuring approximately 8 inches by 4 inches by 13 inches.

CUTE aims to provide a better understanding of atmospheric loss on all types of planets by measuring atmospheric escape rates from giant exoplanets. Atmospheric escape is the loss of mass from a planet’s atmosphere over time. This phenomenon can affect a planet’s long-term physical properties, including the sizes of extrasolar planets and the habitability of rocky planets.

CUTE will target 10 to 12 exoplanets during its eight-month science mission, conducting a survey of heavy elements, such as iron and magnesium, escaping from the atmospheres of the most extreme planets in the galaxy.

“Measuring atmospheric escape rates allows astronomers and planetary scientists to better understand the physics behind atmospheric loss,” said Dr. Kevin France, associate professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder and principal investigator of the CUTE mission. “This in turn allows us to better understand the atmospheres of known planets and predict the properties of extrasolar planets we have not yet discovered.”

CUTE CubeSat for ELaNa 34
Project Manager Rick Kohnert and graduate student Arika Egan show the CUTE spacecraft during dispenser installation testing at the University of Colorado. Photo Credit: University of Colorado/Kevin France

The spacecraft will carry out its mission using a magnifying spectrograph fed by a rectangular Cassegrain telescope. CUTE is sponsored by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Astrophysics Division.

CuPID will study how energy from the Sun is deposited into the Earth’s magnetosphere – a protective bubble around our home planet. This mission could solve long-standing questions on space weather and solar wind magnetosphere coupling. CuPID will measure X-rays in space using a novel wide field-of-view telescope to image reconnection signatures in the magnetosphere. Reconnection occurs when the Sun is active enough that its magnetic field fuses with the Earth’s. Using this soft X-ray telescope, CuPID will generate first-of-their-kind images of this phenomenon.

“Launch is scheduled to occur during a lecture of an orbital dynamics course I’m teaching this fall. I plan to have the class online watching. I’m not sure I could think of a better real-world example of the material,” said Dr. Brian Walsh, CuPID’s principal investigator, and professor of Mechanical Engineering and member of the Center for Space Physics at Boston University.

The CuPID mission, led by Boston University in Massachusetts, is a collaboration with NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; Merrimack College, North Andover, Massachusetts; Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; and is supported by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Heliophysics Division and Small Satellite Project Office.

NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) selected the CubeSats assigned to the ELaNa 34 mission by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) based at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. LSP manages the ELaNa manifest, and CSLI provides launch opportunities for small satellite payloads built by universities, high schools, NASA Centers, and non-profit organizations.

To date, NASA has selected 202 CubeSat missions, 122 of which have been launched into space, with 43 more missions scheduled for launch within the next 12 months. The selected CubeSats represent participants from 42 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 102 unique organizations. CSLI’s 2021 Announcement of Partnership Opportunity is open for CubeSat proposals until Nov. 19, 2021.

Stay connected with these CubeSat missions on social media by following NASA’s Launch Services Program on Facebook and Twitter.