NASA to release LandSat Next Earth-observation satellite imaging sensors solicitation by about 8 March 2021

Feb. 22, 2021
Industry will develop imaging sensors concepts for Landsat Next, which will be either a single-satellite or a constellation of small satellites.

GREENBELT, Md. – U.S. space experts are making plans to ask industry to narrow-down choices for space sensor systems for a next-generation Landsat Earth-observation imaging satellite in the late 2020s with enhanced sensor capabilities.

Officials of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., announced plans Thursday to issue an industry request for proposal (RFP) for instrument studies to support the Landsat Next project, which by late this decade is expected to offer sensors for superspectral land observations with high-spectral and high-resolution imagery of the Earth's surface.

Landsat Next, which is to operate under supervision of NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Reston, Va., is to be the follow-on mission to Landsat 8 and 9, and will continue a spaceborne land-imaging system to collect and process land-imaging data.

Instrument studies will develop and assess instrument concepts for Landsat Next, which will be either a single-satellite solution or a constellation of relatively small Earth-observation satellites.

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Landsat Next instruments will provide Earth spectral coverage in the visible-to-shortwave-infrared (VSWIR) and thermal-infrared (TIR) spectral bands. Instruments may provide either full-swath or narrow-swath coverage for single-satellite approaches.

NASA experts particularly are interested in instrument size, weight and power (SWaP); technical maturity; long-lead items; and cost and schedule information. NASA will award several six-month study contracts.

Landsat Next is to provide improved Earth images for agricultural monitoring, ecological monitoring, urban studies, water resources management, and related applications.

In addition to enhanced imaging capability, the Landsat Next project also is expected to offer users more frequent satellite coverage -- at least once every eight days, NASA officials say.

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For the past 48 years, Landsat satellites and ground sites have made available global multispectral Earth images of 15-to-120-meter resolution for research on land use change, forest health, carbon inventories, and changes to Earth's environment, climate, and natural resources.

Researchers in government, academia, and industry use Landsat data for resource issues like water resource management, wildfires, agricultural productivity, rangeland management, and understanding impacts of climate variability on ecosystems.

The USGS today operates two spacecraft, Landsat 7 and 8, which NASA developed. Landsat 9, a near copy of Landsat 8, is under development, and is expected to begin operations in 2021. Together these satellites can cover the entire Earth's surface every 16 days.

Landsat 8 and 9 each host two instruments: the Operational Land Imager (OLI) that provides multispectral imaging in the visible-light to shortwave infrared spectral; and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) that gathers long-wave infrared imagery.

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Landsat Next also should enable new applications like monitoring surface water quality, cryospheric science, geology, agricultural crop water consumption, and improved estimation of surface temperatures.

Landsat Next may use just one spacecraft, or a constellation of three to five satellites with relatively narrow fields of view. Using a constellation of satellites, instead of just one spacecraft, would improve system resiliency, enable use of on-orbit spares, increase revisit frequency, save costs of Earth-observation sensors, and enable quick technology infusion.

Enabling technologies envisioned for Landsat Next include a new generation of focal planes and free-form optics to help acquire more spectral bands with relatively small instruments. Experts predict that each Landsat Next satellite will have either a single instrument that acquires all visible-through-shortwave infrared and thermal infrared spectral bands, or two instruments that acquire these spectral bands separately.

The Landsat Next spacecraft is expected to operate in a polar, frozen, sun-synchronous orbit with repeating ground track by using propulsive maneuvers for orbit maintenance.

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The Landsat Next ground station may continue using the existing Landsat Multi-mission Operations Center at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., or may pursue a commercial service-based mission operations center. The future satellite also may use increased machine autonomy decrease the frequency of command and fault-management uplinks.

Companies interested should email their intent to submit an offer to NASA's Colin Bornmann no later than 26 Feb. 2021 at [email protected]. An RFP should be issued for the Landsat Next instrument studies is expected by about 8 March 2021.

More information is online at

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John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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