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How to Fly a Satellite at 17,000 MPH; The Historic Flight of Landsat 5

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Landsat 7 image of Mississippi river from May 28, 2003. From the Earth as Art Collection, USGS EROS Data Center.

In 1984, the U.S. launched an Earth remote sensing mission to extend the observational record of our planet’s land masses begun 12-years earlier by the first Earth Resource Technology Satellite, later renamed Landsat 1.  By the time Landsat 5 was launched, on March 1, 1984, expectations were for a 3-year design life and the hope was that it might collect Earth observations for at least 5 years.  Twenty-nine years and a Guinness Book of World Records award later, Landsat 5 is just now ending its historic flight after firmly establishing itself as the Grande Dame of remote sensing; setting a standard of productivity and discovery that future missions will be building on for decades to come.

On Wednesday May 22 Steve Covington, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Flight Systems Manager for Landsat 5, will lecture on the remarkable story of this mission, explaining how these Earth-Observing missions are operated and telling the inspirational story of how the Flight Operations Team on the ground used equal parts engineering, determination and luck, to propel Landsat 5 into the record books. 

NASA drawing of Landsat 5 satellite.

Steve Covington started his career literally in the middle of a corn field in South Dakota working at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center .  It was at this world-class science and satellite data processing and distribution facility in 1984 that he watched the launch of Landsat 5 on closed circuit TV, not realizing the role it would play in his future.  After several more years at EROS, Steve moved back east and discovered how risky a venture company could actually be before spending several years as the Production Director for a French satellite company’s U.S. subsidiary.  Since 1995, Steve has worked at the Aerospace Corporation on contract to the USGS first as the liaison between the USGS and NASA during the development and launch of the Landsat 7 mission, then as a Landsat 7 Flight Systems Manager before adding Landsat 5 to his portfolio in 2001.  Twelve years later, Steve now finds himself as the longest-running Flight Manager for Landsat 5 in its 29-year history, now working with the flight team to ensure a dignified end to a remarkable mission.

How is a spacecraft’s orbit determined and maintained? 

Who decides what images of the Earth will be taken?

 How do you manage a spacecraft flying across the sky at 17,000 miles per hour?

Come to the lecture and find out!

How to Manage a Satellite Going 17,000 MPH: The Historic Flight of Landsat 5  will be held on Wednesday, May 22 at 11:30 a.m  at the Pickford Theater, 3rd floor, James Madison Building, Library of Congress

Comments (3)

  1. Is this lecture planned to be either or web or pod cast?

    • @ Ann. We will capture this lecture for future broadcast on the Library’s science webcast and YouTube Topics in Science pages. This normally takes a few weeks to get posted to these sites. I will send out an annoucement once it is up on our site and YouTube. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  2. Jeepers, isn’t this stuff cool, it reminds me of when i was 9 years old.

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