LOS ANGELES - The United States launched its latest Earth observation satellite Monday, enhancing an array of orbiting eyes that help with every from climate-change study to urban planning.
The satellite was launched into space atop an Atlas rocket fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, NASA said.
The Landsat Data Continuity Mission, or Landsat 8, was the latest in a line of satellites used since 1972 to continuously gather imagery from space of the Earth's land surface, coastal areas and coral reefs.
The new satellite separated from the rocket an hour and twenty minutes after liftoff, and the peep of its first signal was received three minutes later at a ground station in Norway.
The satellite will reach its operational orbit 438 miles (735 kilometers) over the Earth within two months.
It is designed to have a minimum five year life span, although it is fueled for a 10-year run in space, orbiting the Earth about 14 times a day.
The satellite is the eighth in a series that has been instrumental in tracking the changing face of the planet.
"This data is a key tool for monitoring climate change and has led to the improvement of human and biodiversity health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture monitoring -- all resulting in incalculable benefits to the U.S. and world economy," NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.
The new spacecraft's powerful sensors will gather 400 "screens" of the planet a day and relay them for storage in ground base archives where they can be accessed by anyone.
It can map the entire surface of the Earth every 16 days, collecting important data on forests, water levels and agricultural activities.
NASA said use of the Landsat data has been transformed in recent years by more robust computing power and the government's decision to allow free online access to the data streamed back to Earth.
Distribution of the data from the new one is to begin within 100 days.
The accumulated data allows specific sites to be compared over periods of months, years or decades, providing what NASA says is the longest record of the Earth's continental surfaces as seen from space.
NASA scientists say the sensors aboard the latest spacecraft, which joins the Landsat 7 satellite, will allow for observations that are more sensitive to change in the landscape over time.
"USGS's policy of offering free and open access to the phenomenal 40-year Landsat data record will continue to give the United States and global research community a better understanding of the changes occurring on our planet," said Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division.
The satellite will go through a check-out phase for the next three months, and after that operational control of it will be transferred to US Geological Survey.
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