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Launch Fever

February 8, 2013, 9:57 PM by Perry Groten

Launch Fever

We're less than three days and counting to a launch that will thrust South Dakota's EROS Data Center into a new space age. 

At noon on Monday, a NASA rocket will carry the Landsat 8 satellite into orbit, providing EROS with the best images yet of earth.

EROS Data Center can't wait for NASA to "light this candle" and get an Atlas V rocket spacebound.
"Oh, I couldn't be more excited. This is one of those opportunities that doesn't come along all that often," Chief Scientist Tom Loveland said.

The rocket's payload is a new Landsat 8 satellite that will send back images of the earth for EROS researchers to collect and archive. Getting Landsat 8 off the ground has been in the works since 2006.

"So it's been over the last six years, a non-stop sprint to get everything built, put together and ready for this launch," Ground System Manager Jim Nelson said.

EROS workers, including Nelson, will be at California's Vandenberg Air Force base to witness the launch.

"And then feel the rumble of the earth moving while you're launching up in space," Nelson said.

Over the past 40 years, Landsat satellites have been circling the globe recording changes in the earth's surface.  The images provide EROS with valuable information to share with scientists studying how those changes impact the environment, both in urban and rural areas. 

And Landsat 8 is sitting on the launch pad, just hours away from joining in this four-decade long mission.

"This helps continue EROS's role as the world's leader in providing earth imagery to scientists," Chief Technician Jenn Sabers said.
Right now, EROS is receiving images from the aging Landsat 7 satellite that was launched some 13 years ago.  Landsat 8 is a far more sophisticated satellite, equipped with finely-tuned instruments like an infrared sensor to take precise readings of the earth's surface.

"It's like looking at a ruler, if you measure with a ruler that had a mark every one-inch, to now having a ruler that has a mark every 16th of an inch," Nelson said.

Nothing will escape Landsat 8's steady gaze 450 miles overhead.

"The capacity of this satellite to collect more imagery over more of the earth than every before is significant and it gives us the opportunity to intensify our monitoring of the changes that are going on across the surface of the earth," Loveland said.

Working in tandem with Landsat 7, Landsat 8 provides EROS with a second eye in the sky. That means every 16 days a satellite will be flying high over Sioux Falls taking our picture.

"When you know there's an overpass for this area coming, you get up in the morning, you look at the forecast and you wonder if there are going to be clouds.  That's the one thing we can't do is see through the clouds, so we do hope for clear skies every 16 days," Loveland said.

Orbiting the earth once every 98 minutes, Landsat 8 could be peering down at the planet for at least a decade. The spacecraft has a design life of five years with enough fuel to stay soaring in space for ten years.  That's plenty of time for EROS to conduct groundbreaking research, from on-high.

EROS workers who aren't in California will watch the launch live from Garretson through NASA-TV.
You can watch Monday's launch from your laptop, click here.

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