New NASA Earth Observations Range From City Growth to Climate Change

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Monitoring forest health—During much of the 1980s, deforestation in Brazil eliminated more than 9,000 square miles per year. That pace has only increased through the '90s and into the 21st century. Brazil is home to more than a quarter of Earth's tropical forests. Considering that the band of lush green that circles the globe through many equatorial nations is fundamental to the overall health of the whole planet's environment, careful monitoring of forest health in the tropics is essential.

New technologies and techniques—NASA's launch of the EO-1 spacecraft marked the beginning of NASA's transition to a new way of doing business. "This mission could change the way we look at satellite technology, as well as change the way we look at the Earth," said Bryant Cramer, manager of the New Millennium Program. "EO-1 is testing and validating new technologies that will enable new or more cost-effective approaches to conducting science missions in the 21st century."

If that happens, the new experimental satellite will pave the road for future, continued development of the Landsat data legacy. EO-1's Advanced Land Imager, its Hyperion hyperspectral imager and the new Atmospheric Corrector all have direct application to providing next generation Landsat-type data. Cramer said the EO-1 mission is significant for another reason—it signals a revolutionary approach to mission operations.

For the first time ever, NASA is flying spacecraft in formation with other research satellites. In the first satellite maneuver of its kind, EO-1 is in an orbit just behind Landsat 7. This "formation flying" allows EO-1 to take a picture of the same scene as Landsat 7, only one minute later. This places the two spacecraft approximately 270 miles apart, plus or minus about 30 miles. This affords scientists and engineers the opportunity to do some valuable tests. By flying the same route so close together, each satellite takes nearly identical images that can be compared on the ground.

In this carefully choreographed constellation, Landsat 7 takes the lead, followed by EO-1, SAC-C and finally Terra. The constellation of satellites provides unique research possibilities, including highly precise cross calibration of instruments.

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