Earth observing technology satellite proves a success
Posted: July 1, 2002

The new Earth monitoring technology aboard NASA's Earth-Observing 1 (EO-1) satellite has proven itself invaluable in its clarity and ability to more accurately identify objects on the Earth's surface, and will become part of a long-term Earth monitoring mission on the next Landsat satellite.

The EO-1 satellite was launched to test new technology over a short time frame, and confirm that it was suitable for a long term satellite mission, such as the next generation of Landsat satellites. The purpose of the mission was also aimed at lowering the costs and increasing the performances of future Earth science missions.

"EO-1 has been a very successful mission. It has remained fully functional since launch and has now produced over four times the volume of imagery originally expected," said Bryant Cramer, EO-1 Implementation Manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

This time sequence over the 2001 Australian growing season illustrates the evolution of different crops through their growing cycle. The images are based on how much sunlight and the color spectrum that the crops reflect back to space. The intensity of the red color is an indicator of the chlorophyll activity and the plant vitality. Hyperion aboard the EO-1 satellite took this time series of images, showing the progression of crop growth from January tomid-March, 2001. The information helps farmers monitor the health of their crops. Credit: Jay Pearlman, TRW and David Jupp, CSRIO Australia
Two instruments in particular, Hyperion, the world's only hyperspectral satellite sensor utilizing 220-bands (of the spectrum) at approximately 30-meter (98.4 ft.) spatial resolution and the Advanced Land Imager (ALI), a lightweight, high performance, multi-spectral sensor have already proven invaluable in monitoring the Earth's surfaces. ALI has a panchromatic sharpening band that produces 10-meter (32.8 ft.) imagery.

After a one-year test aboard EO-1, ALI's proven effectiveness in image clarity supersedes the current ETM+ Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus on-board the Landsat satellites. ALI and Hyperion are providing space-qualified new technologies as potential models for the next generation Landsat and other land imaging satellites.

Earth Observing-1, launched on November 21, 2000, is the first satellite in NASA's New Millennium Program Earth Observing series. The EO missions will develop and validate instruments and technologies for space-based Earth observations with unique spatial, spectral and temporal characteristics not previously available.

EO-1's primary focus is to develop and test a set of advanced technology land imaging instruments. However, many other key instruments and technologies are part of the mission and will have wide ranging applications to future land imaging missions in particular and future satellites in general.

NASA and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are partners on this mission. NASA and USGS scientists believe that the datasets will prove valuable to global land cover studies, ecosystem monitoring, mineral and petroleum prospecting, and agricultural crop assessment, among other potential applications. Image data products are now distributed by USGS EROS Data Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

These images of agricultural land cover in the Coleambally Irrigation Area, in New South Wales, Australia were created using the Hyperion instrument aboard the EO-1 satellite. Using the 220 spectral bands measured by Hyperion, scientists are able to distinguish one crop from another based on colors of light reflected by the different plant types. The image on the bottom right identifies which crop is in which field. This information is very helpful to irrigation area managers in planning the amount of water use and crop production. Credit: Jay Pearlman, TRW and David Jupp, CSRIO Australia
The Hyperion instrument has proven very useful in a number of applications such as forestry. Previous capabilities from the Landsat satellite enabled researchers to identify vegetation as hardwood, softwood, and grasslands. The Hyperion instrument, using many of its 220 bands from the spectrum, enables scientists to distinguish the types of trees, from Red Pine to Red Oak, and the types of environments including hardwood bogs, mixed conifers and spruce swamplands. This type of data is very important to land managers.

The Hyperion data can also indicate healthy grasslands and dormant vegetation, and can distinguish riverbeds from brush, paved and dirt road surfaces, and planted areas, down to the details of what type of crop is growing. This kind of data is especially useful for farmers who need to fertilize certain crops.

Some of the results from the ALI technology include a sharp image of the path of the deadly La Plata, Maryland Tornado from May of 2002. An improvement of clarity in images over local areas was also seen in an image of Sutton, Alaska taken by the Landsat-7 ETM+ and the ALI, where the ALI image proved to be much sharper. The ALI instrument also provided the sharpest images of Las Vegas at night, clearly depicting the casino lights that lined a main street.

Results from the EO-1 mission were presented at the 2002 International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel and Conference Center, Toronto, Canada. The session "Overview of the Earth Observing System-1 Satellite," will be presented by Dr. Stephen Ungar of NASA Goddard.

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