Satellite continues 50 years of the earth imagery used by Trimble's eCognition community

Trimble had the honor of attending last week’s launch of the Landsat 9 observatory, a key piece of the Landsat program offering a continuous global record of the Earth’s surface, from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Landsat 9 made a successful journey to orbit on Sept. 27 onboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket, and Greg Wallace, Trimble’s sector vice president of technology, got to represent the company at the launch.

“It was an absolute honor, and one of the highlights of my 25 years at Trimble to represent our company at such a prestigious event, as a guest of the U.S. Geological Society,” Wallace said. “Being physically present really crystallized the significance of what NASA, USGS, and multiple key contributors have achieved in simply getting the observatory to orbit.”

Landsat 9 launches distance cloudy skies

Landsat 9 is a partnership between the USGS and NASA that will continue the Landsat program’s critical role of repeat global observations for monitoring, understanding and managing Earth’s natural resources, as noted on the USGS website.

Trimble’s connection to Landsat is through its eCognition software community, which frequently uses USGS Landsat data for GIS-oriented decision support. 

Wallace, who watched the launch from the gravel pit viewing site at the base, described euphoric cheers from the gathered crowd as the rocket left the pad and quickly disappeared into the low cloud. “The audience stared into the cloudy sky and waited the four minutes to get past maximum dynamic pressure and to hear the announcement of a successful Atlas Centaur stage separation, and payload fairing jettison,” he said. “The real relief for this crowd came over an hour later when the successful Landsat 9 payload separation event occurred - prompting another round of cheers.”

The Landsat family of satellites, celebrating their 50th birthday in 2022, continue their mission to allow people to view and download imagery, such as landscape, rivers, forests, fields and cities, free of charge. 

Keith Peterson, eCognition product manager, explained that while Trimble isn’t directly connected to the Landsat project, “a large percentage of our user base takes advantage of the Landsat data and uses or processes Landsat data in eCognition.”

“The mere fact that we’re seeing the U.S. invest in something like Landsat in this day and age is an important indicator to not only the scientific community,” he said, “but also to the different U.S. agencies and the commitment to space missions and remote sensing in general.”

Wallace shared that he has a new appreciation for the contribution Trimble’s eCognition analysis software is making to the global community to study climate change. "Getting an invitation to the launch afforded me the opportunity to watch briefings and webinars explaining the technology behind the satellite and its sensors,” he said, “and also the numerous ways in which this nearly 50-year continuous and uniquely calibrated dataset is being used by scientists and organizations around the world to help humanity.”

Crowd watching Landsat 9

Now that the launch is complete, once NASA hands over the satellite, USGS will be responsible for all ground operations and maintenance of the satellite’s orbits, along with the data processing and distribution. 

Wallace noted that, “What is under appreciated is the years of effort by all the parties involved in getting to this point, from the sensor design, satellite/spacecraft design to support the sensors themselves (Northrop Grumman), rocket preparation and launch operations (ULA), to the USGS ground operations and management – all to provide an uninterrupted 50-year data archive of freely available public records. This is unique in Earth observation satellite data, and ultimately an important element in enabling Trimble’s eCognition software value proposition for many of our customers.”

Here’s a brief look at Landsat satellite history, as well as a deeper dive into Landsat 9 and its user base.

Half a Century of Landsat Satellites

Landsat 9 sign graphic

The Landsat satellite program was launched in 1972, with a mission to collect data that allows us to better understand our land. The global population is projected to be 9 billion by 2050, and we need to make informed decisions today, so we can feed, house and provide a healthy atmosphere to such a large number of residents.

Landsat satellite data offers a unique resource for those who work in agriculture, geology, forestry, regional planning, education, mapping, and global-change research. The data collected by Landsat allows professionals working in many disciplines to be well-informed and make good decisions. These disciplines include agriculture, climate, energy, fire, natural disasters, human health, urban growth, water management, ecosystems and biodiversity, as well as forest management. For examples of how Landsat helps society, visit here.

Landsat 9 is the most advanced satellite in the Landsat series, and will extend the data record of the Earth’s land surface that began with Landsat 1.

What’s New with Landsat 9

Landsat 9 is destined to move into the current orbit of Landsat 7, which is set to be decommissioned in 2022. Landsat 9 will image the Earth every 16 days in an 8-day offset with Landsat 8 – collecting up to 750 scenes daily. The powerful combination of Landsats 9 and 8 will collect an estimated 1,500 scenes daily. According to the USGS website: Landsat 9 will increase the volume of the USGS archive by imaging all global landmasses and nearshore coastal regions, including islands at solar elevation angles greater than 5 degrees that were not always routinely collected prior to Landsat 8.

“Essentially, the combination of Landsats 8 and 9 allow the satellites to cover more of the world more frequently,” said Peterson. “With Landsat 9, the great advantage for users is they’ll have more access to data. eCognition is an incredibly powerful tool in terms of automating and processing large datasets and multiple datasets.”

Who Uses Landsat

Landsat 9 banner indoors

Landsat 9 – the most advanced satellite in the series– is giving users the ability to evaluate changes in the Earth’s landscape, at a greater level than ever before.

The advantages of Landsat 9 are quite considerable for monitoring professionals. Monitoring for change detection requires higher revisit times to capture specific areas. Peterson also notes users can increase their chances of successful capture of the area if there’s cloud cover, for instance.

Landsat users span a wide swath of geographical areas and applications, and one thing they all have in common is this: they use the technology to extract powerful data and make sound conclusions. Here are a few examples:

Agriculture. Landsat measurements provide crucial information to farmers and other food management organizations. This data is used to analyze and make decisions about land and crop health, irrigation, fertilizer needs, drought impacts and even combat crop insurance fraud.

Fire. Landsat data allows land managers to assess the extent of large fires, with the goals of better managing our forests and learning how to prevent future fire disasters.

Human Health. The Earth’s natural pollutants, such as insects, can cause disease in humans, animals and crops – with the result being sickness, malnutrition and death. Landsat readings can pinpoint where water accumulation has caused insect breeding grounds, informing scientists so they can make smart decisions to minimize environmental health risks.

Urban Growth. The presence of people, and growing numbers of people, has a profound impact on the Earth’s landscape, including: land surface, vegetation, water cycle and climate, to name a few. Landsat data aids in monitoring landscape change, and can help to predict future changes.

Vandenberg Space Force Base


About the Author

Trimble Geospatial

Trimble Geospatial provides Land Surveying, GIS, Scanning, Mobile Mapping, Remote Sensing, Photogrammetry and Forensics professionals with industry leading hardware and software solutions.