Space agencies look to observe Earth together

By on 22 March, 2016

The US Capital, Washington DC, as seen by ESA’s Sentinel-2A satellite.


The international powerhouses of satellite data capture, European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), have established an innovative partnership to enable storage and redistribution of Earth observation data acquired by the USGS/NASA Landsat program and the ESA Copernicus program satellites.

The ESA-USGS collaboration will serve scientific and commercial customers who are interested in data such as the condition of forests, crops, and water bodies across large regions, and in the longer term environmental condition of the Earth. Data acquired by the European Union’s Sentinel-2A satellite launched in June 2015 are highly complementary to data acquired by USGS/NASA Landsat satellites since 1972.

“Landsat and Sentinel data will weave together very effectively,” said Dr Virginia Burkett, USGS Associate Director for Climate and Land Use Change. “Adding the image recurrence of two Sentinel-2 satellites to Landsats 7 and 8 will increase repeat multispectral coverage of the Earth’s land areas to every 3 to 4 days. With more frequent views of the Earth, we will significantly improve our ability to see and understand changes taking place across the global landscape.”

The agreement is part of a broader understanding between the European Union and the three US federal science agencies,  NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and USGS. Signed in October 2015, the agreement stipulates that all parties are committed to free and open access to Earth observation satellite data produced by all participating organisations.

“Free and open access to Landsat and Sentinel-2 data together will create remarkable economic and scientific benefits for people around the globe,” said Dr. Suzette Kimball, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey. “At the outset of our partnership we can only imagine the synergies between our two perspectives from space. But I’m confident that the final product of our partnership will be an enriched knowledge of our planet.”

Sentinel data are available at no cost from the Copernicus Scientific Data Hub. Additionally, in order to expedite data delivery around the globe, users may also download both Sentinel-2 and Landsat data at no charge in a familiar digital environment from USGS access systems such as EarthExplorer.

However, presently only selected Sentinel data are available from the USGS in an early testing phase. Timely access to all Sentinel data will follow as the procedures for data transfer, user access, and data delivery continue to be optimised at the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Centre.

The various earth observations missions also provide different benefits across different organisations. Foe example, the MultiSpectral Instrument (MSI) sensor on board Sentinel 2A acquires 13 spectral bands that parallel and contrast to data acquired by the USGS Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+). On the other hand, Landsat satellites have  the added capability to collect thermal infrared data which is used in a variety of water and agricultural monitoring applications.


For further technical details such as data availability, geographic coverage, acquisition frequency, and resolution, visit the Copernicus and Landsat websites. 

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