End of an era for long serving satellite


Landsat 5 capture of the 2007
Newcastle floods including
the MV Pasha Bulker freight
ship run aground during
wild storms.
© Geoscience Australia

The 29-year journey of the world's longest serving Earth orbiting satellite will come to an end this month when the Landsat 5 satellite is decommissioned.

On 15 January 2013, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) started the process of moving Landsat 5 into a lower orbit to slowly disintegrate the satellite through atmospheric burn-off.

Launched in 1984 with a three year design life, Landsat 5 has orbited the Earth more than 150 000 times and transmitted over 2.5 million images of the surface of our planet in its 29-year history.

Landsat 5 has played a vital role in environmental monitoring and emergency management, providing images of urban expansion, floods, cyclones and major bushfire events including the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

Geoscience Australia has been receiving and interpreting data from Landsat 5 since its inception, producing the satellite's first images of Australasia from the Australian Landsat Station in Alice Springs.

Dr Adam Lewis, head of Geoscience Australia's Earth Observation Group, said, "This is the end of an era. Landsat 5 has operated for 25 years beyond its expected three year design life, far exceeding even the most extreme predictions of its longevity".

Geoscience Australia will support the decommissioning operation by receiving and passing on communications to the USGS while the satellite is over the Australian continent. The information will advise on the exact location of the satellite and the status of its systems.

"Landsat 5 has been the most important piece of space infrastructure in monitoring the Australian landscape over the past three decades, and I think it's fitting that we play an important role, albeit a small one, in the decommissioning," said Dr Lewis.

Landsat 5 will be followed by the Landsat Data Continuity Mission; expected to launch in February 2013. Geoscience Australia will continue its role as an international co-operator, working closely with the United States to maintain the long-term record of land imaging of Australia.