This morning at 10AM (PST), NASA launched its next iteration of Landsat satellites. The Landsat 8 is the 8th satellite since 1972 launched with the purpose of capturing images of earth’s surface. As of right now, all modern interactive maps used in programs such as Google Maps, Google Earth, and GIS programs use data from Landsat 7, which was sent into the atmosphere on April 15, 1999. This means that every image of the earth’s surface we see in those programs is outdated by nearly 14 years. The period of time between the launches of Landsat 7 and Landset 8 is the longest in the Landsat program’s history, and the new satellite is sure to update our understanding of the earth’s surface considerably.
Much has changed in the 14 years since the launch of Landsat 7, including the technology that powers the satellite’s imagery capabilities. All of the previous Landsat satellites used sensors with mirrors that simply oscillated back and forth, whereas Landsat 8 will use new sensors designed to continually measure infrared wavelengths, surface temperature, and the image of the earth’s surface. This way, we will have the clearest images of the earth’s surface, as well as information about the surface that we couldn’t have received from earlier Landsats.
According to the NASA blog post on the subject, Landsat 8 will be able to provide a complete picture of the earth’s surface every 16 days using the new sensors. Now, I’m not sure if this means that interfaces such as Google Maps will be updated every 16 days with new imagery or not, but that would certainly be a huge leap in mapping technology.