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Earth Observing Satellite Landsat 5 to be Decommissioned

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Dec 27, 2012 06:05 AM EST
Landsat 5
This natural-color Landsat 5 time series shows the progression of deforestation in Rondonia, Brazil, from 1986 to 2006.

(Photo : NASA/USGS)

The longest-operating Earth observing satellite, Landsat 5, will be deactivated after spending decades observing the changing planet Earth and transmitting over 2.5 million images, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced last week.

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The Landsat 5 satellite mission was launched by NASA in 1984 as part of a three-year mission to observe Earth. But the satellite has outlived this period and has been orbiting Earth for the last 29 years.

During this time, Landsat 5 has orbited the planet more than 150,000 times and sent images of land surface conditions across the globe.

In recent years, USGS has worked to revive the satellite from failing on a number of occasions. But a recent failure of a gyroscope (a device that maintains a fixed orientation) has forced the USGS officials to decide on deactivating the aging satellite. It will be decommissioned in the next few months.

"This is the end of an era for a remarkable satellite, and the fact that it flew for almost three decades is a testament to the NASA engineers and the USGS team who launched it and kept it flying well beyond its expected lifetime," Anne Castle, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, said in a statement.

"The Landsat program is the 'gold standard' of satellite observation, providing an invaluable public record of our planet that helps us to tackle critical land, water, and environmental issues."

Besides observing the changing planet, Landsat 5 recorded and took images of events like crowds reaching the U.S. capital to see the inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama in 2009. It also captured images of the aftermath of disasters like Chernobyl, Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and impacts of natural hazards like deforestation, tsunami and wildfire, reports Space.com.

With the retirement of Landsat 5, another satellite called Landsat 7 will continue to provide information. Landsat 7, which was launched in 1999, has also outlived its five-year design life.

NASA is planning to launch one more satellite - Landsat 8. The scheduled launch will take place in February 2013.

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