EROS’s new eye in space

Eye on KELOLAND

GARRETSON, SD (KELO) — We’re getting our first look at the celestial snapshots of earth being taken by the newest satellite that’s circling high above us. The images captured by Landsat 9 will be analyzed and archived by scientists at the EROS Center in Garretson. This new piece of high-tech hardware will enhance EROS’s ongoing mission to study global changes.

Earth is ready for its close-up, courtesy of Landsat 9. These are the first pictures from the newest satellite shutterbug orbiting the globe.

“They were awesome. They’re incredible. They are much better than expected,” EROS New Missions Branch Chief Joe Blahovec said.

Landsat 9 is snapping away photos some 438 miles above earth. It will be up to researchers on the ground to analyze the pictures to determine how changes to earth’s surface over time, will impact our environment and natural resources.

Image from Landsat 9 satellite.

“The goal then is to get that information, that change information, into the hands of decision-makers, such as land managers, or farmers, so they can then use it to respond to these changes that make them more effective at being land managers,” EROS Acting Director Pete Doucette said.

An Atlas V rocket blasted-off, in the fog, from California back in September carrying Landsat 9 into space. Some of the staff from EROS were on hand to witness the launch.

“You could feel it and hear it, it was just awesome, and everything went smooth after that. It’s up in orbit, and operating like it should be, probably our cleanest launch for Landsat,” Blahovec said.

Landsat 9 has new-and-improved sensors that can take higher-definition photos of earth than the two older EROS satellites currently orbiting the earth.

“It gives us more sensitivity, you can see subtle differences in the earth images, which helps you look at darker images better, like water, or dense forests,” Blahovec said.

EROS is part of a global network of facilities that collect the important data from space.

“We need a certain amount of bandwidth to capture all the imagery, so there’s a ground station in Alice Springs, Australia, another one in Germany, another one in Norway that we use extensively to make sure we can fulfill our global mission of receiving Landsat data every day,” Sustainable Land Imaging Partnership Development Senior Advisor Steve Labahn said.

The EROS building has been closed to the public since the start of the pandemic and will likely remain closed until the spring. Most of the staff has been working from home and it’s not keeping them from fulfilling their mission here at the agency.

“We’re at about 10-percent capacity right now of staff that come on-site, to do some basic, essential functions, and the remaining 90-percent continue to work in a full tele-work mode from home. So, we are hoping that we’ll be back to a fairly normal operational mode early next year,” Doucette said.

EROS warehouses some 10-million images of earth captured by space satellites throughout the years. And even during a pandemic, they take an unblinking look at all the changes down below, that will impact earth’s future for years to come.

Eventually, Landsat 9 will be able to take as many as 700 images during its 14-and-a-half orbits of earth each day.

Right now, NASA is in charge of the satellite. But in January, NASA officials will be in Garretson to officially turn over the keys to EROS.

You can check out the pictures of earth for yourself.

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