Advisory Committee Recommends Keeping Landsat Data Free

Landsat 8 (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Citing a combination of negligible revenues and negative economic impacts on the economy, an Interior Department advisory committee has recommended that the government not implement fees for the use of data from the Landsat 8 and 9 satellites.

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GAO: Landsat 9 Program in Good Shape

Landsat 8 (Credit: NASA)

NASA’s Landsat 9 program is in good shape and on track for a launch as early as December 2020, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) assessment.

The positive assessment makes the $885 million Earth observation satellite a rarity among the major NASA projects that GAO evaluated in its annual assessment. The government watchdog found that most of the programs are suffering cost overruns or schedule delays.

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U.S. Government Could Start Charging for Landsat Data

Landsat 8 (Credit: NASA)

The Trump Administration is considering re-imposing fees for Landsat images that were eliminated in 2008.

The US government is considering whether to charge for access to two widely used sources of remote-sensing imagery: the Landsat satellites operated by the US Geological Survey (USGS) and an aerial-survey programme run by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Officials at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the USGS, have asked a federal advisory committee to explore how putting a price on Landsat data might affect scientists and other users; the panel’s analysis is due later this year. And the USDA is contemplating a plan to institute fees for its data as early as 2019.

Some scientists who work with the data sets fear that changes in access could impair a wide range of research on the environment, conservation, agriculture and public health. “It would be just a huge setback,” says Thomas Loveland, a remote-sensing scientist who recently retired from the USGS in Sioux Falls, South Dakota….

Since the USGS made the data freely available, the rate at which users download it has jumped 100-fold. The images have enabled groundbreaking studies of changes in forests, surface water, and cities, among other topics. Searching Google Scholar for “Landsat” turns up nearly 100,000 papers published since 2008.

A USGS survey of Landsat users released in 2013 found that the free distribution of Landsat imagery generates more than US$2 billion of economic benefit annually — dwarfing the programme’s current annual budget of roughly $80 million. More than half of the nearly 13,500 survey respondents were academics, and the majority lived outside the United States.

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