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Unlocking New Possibilities with Landsat 9

Erin Eckles

Landsat 9 was launched in late September 2021, and on October 31st the satellite acquired a set of images known as “first light” (available online). These images serve as a preview of how the Landsat mission will improve on the programs near 50-year history of Earth satellite imagery that continues to help people prepare for and respond to natural disasters such as landslides and wildfires, manage vital natural resources and understand the impacts of climate change.

The NASA Landsat 9 team is conducting a 100-day “Commissioning Phase” to test the satellite’s systems, subsystems and calibrate its instruments. NASA will hand the mission over to the USGS in January at which time USGS will operate Landsat 9 along with Landsat 8. Together, the two satellites will collect approximately 1,500 images every day and cover the entire globe every eight days.

“The ENVI team can’t wait to start combining the data collected by Landsat 8 with that of the new Landsat 9 to get much higher temporal resolution,” said Austin Coates, Solutions Engineering Manager at L3Harris Geospatial. “We have been looking at a lot of time series data recently, and it is incredible the insights you can derive from a series of images as compared to a single frame.”

Landsat 9 is similar in design to its predecessor Landsat 8, launched in 2013, but features several improvements. Landsat 9 will transmit data with higher radiometric resolution which will allow for the detection of more subtle differences, especially over darker areas like water or dense forests. For comparison, Landsat 9 differentiates more than 16,000 shades of a given wavelength color while Landsat 7, the satellite it is replacing, only detects 256 shades.

“ENVI has a rich heritage of isolating fine scale details in imagery, and we can’t wait to capitalize on the 14 bits of data produced by Landsat 9,” said Coates. “We are excited that this new bit depth will help us to unlock more information about dark targets like forests and deep water.”




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