SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — NASA officially handed over the keys of a new space satellite to South Dakota’s EROS Data Center on Thursday. This means the Landsat 9 satellite, launched nearly one year ago, is now fully operational.

They gathered under a tent, outside of the EROS Data Center, because the inside of the building remains under COVID restrictions. The prairie breezes provided some natural air conditioning in the summer heat. This ceremony marks a passing of the baton from NASA to EROS.

“The program is one-of-a-kind and we have to ensure that it continues into the future,” U.S. Interior Department Assistant Secretary for Water & Science Tanya Trujillo said.

Landsat 9 is the newest generation of earth-imaging satellite, capturing higher-quality images of changes to the planet’s surface. Experts use that data, warehoused by EROS, to make important land-management decisions around the globe.

“We get better resolution on it, we get more bands, so we can see darker areas like deep water near the shoreline and forests,” Acting Landsat 9 Project Manager Pete Doucette said.

Taking over control of Landsat 9 means from now on, EROS, and not NASA, will be responsible for flying the satellite.

“Flying the satellite is kind of like driving a car, you have various objects in orbit that you have to avoid, you have to keep the satellite on the path that it needs to be on, it’s called station-keeping, so that it stays on the track it needs to be on to keep the imaging consistent,” Acting EROS Director Pete Doucette said.

EROS has archived millions of images taken from Landsat satellites through the years. And this transfer of Landsat 9 to EROS will put the agency’s important mission into sharper focus for decades to come.

Landsat 9 joins Landsat 8, which has been in orbit, taking pictures of the earth for nearly 10 years. The two satellites are flying more than 400 miles overhead.