The fact that the US Government has approved and given the go-ahead to Landsat 9 is great news! Especially for Geoger Ltd., as the Landsat archive is often used as a source of data for our clients. The official announcement about Landsat 9 includes the following statement:
The President’s fiscal year 2016 budget calls for initiation of a Landsat 9 spacecraft as an upgraded rebuild of Landsat 8, as well as development of a low-cost thermal infrared (TIR) free-flying satellite for launch in 2019 to reduce the risk of a data gap in this important measurement. The TIR free flyer will ensure data continuity by flying in formation with Landsat 8. The budget also calls for the exploration of technology and systems innovations to provide more cost effective and advanced capabilities in future land-imaging missions beyond Landsat 9, such as finding ways to miniaturize instruments to be launched on smaller, less expensive satellites. (http://landsat.gsfc.nasa.gov/?p=10391)
However, the gap between the launch of Landsat 8 (2013) and Landsat 9 (proposed as 2023) is a risky 10 years, which will most likely extend as financial and political spanners get thrown into the works in intervening years. The Landsat programme is an incredibly important one, and has provided data (now open data!) for more than 40 years. This unprecedented timeline of environmental data collection really should be safeguarded into the future.
Granted, other satellite programmes will be able to help maintain, supplement and build the data archive if anything happens to Landsat 8 before Landsat 9 is launched. However, one of the statements that pleases me most in the press release snippet above is that research will be funded to find a way of replicating the Landsat sensor outputs using smaller and lighter sensors.
Hopefully the question will arise – which disruptive space start-up company is going to launch a mini-Landsat and release the data for free into the NASA archives, before 2023? Now that would be cool.