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ISU students celebrate launch of new satellite

The Geographic Information Systems room was filled with researchers and students who sat in anticipation as the countdown began.

After years of anticipation, the moment these GIS students have been waiting for was announced by the voice of master control, “We have ignition, and lift off.”

GIS director Keith Weber described today’s historic event.

“It is a big rocket, an Atlas rocket, ” Weber said. “It fires off, we watched it out here, and the satellite unfolds out there. Sure, it’s very interesting…but the connection to here at ISU is very real.”

The students live-streamed the Landsat Data Continuity Mission launch today at 11 A.M. from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Weber mentioned this satellite will provide geographical land researchers and farmers around the state with images and data depicting the land’s agricultural fields.

This satellite is the only operational satellite that provides high resolution images that can be used to map the relationship between the land and the atmosphere.

Weber also said this will help he and his students with developing ways to better understand fire protection.

“If this rocket fails, we’re going to have a problem,” Weber said. “We’re going to be relying on Landsat-8 imagery to generate fire severity maps that come in to the fire season of 2013.”

This is the eighth mission for the Landsat satellite, and the first one in almost three decades that has launched successfully – so far. This satellite is replacing the fifth one that has been in orbit for 28 years.

Representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey in Boise drove in for today’s launch as well. They say this new technology will help with the further development of farming technology.

“Everything from climate science, to forest monitoring, to geology and water science,” USGS liaison Scott Vanhoff said. “It’s really a key data set, not only for US Geological Survey scientists, but for researchers all over the world…agriculture takes advantage of these advances in science and these advances in data that are available now thanks to these satellite-based instruments.”

The satellite reached a final height of more than 400 miles above the Earth in just over an hour and a half. Not counting the circulation period where the satellite was at rest, this would be equivalent to reaching that altitude in just over thirty minutes.

Weber said the first images from the new satellite should be released by next month.

And although these scientists are excited about the launch of the new Landsat, they are already about to start talking about the possibility of Landsat-9.

The mission cost a total of about one billion dollars, funded by NASA.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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