On Feb. 11, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched Landsat 8 as part of its Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM). The Earth-observation satellite continues 40 years of service by its predecessors in monitoring Earth’s natural resources. The satellite is equipped with an Operational Land Imager to observe water quality and a thermal instrument that can determine how much water is being used for agricultural irrigation.

The satellite will circle Earth about 14 times per day from an altitude of 705 km (438 mi), returning over each location every 16 days. Landsat 8 has a spatial resolution of 30 m (98 ft), so the images are detailed enough to characterize human-scale processes, such as urban growth, agricultural irrigation, and deforestation.

“LDCM will be the best Landsat satellite yet launched in terms of the quality and quantity of the data collected by the LDCM sensors,” said Jim Irons, LDCM project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

All of the data are freely available to the public via the U.S. Geological Survey. Read more.

An Atlas V rocket carries the LDCM satellite into space (video courtesy of NASA).