Current status of Landsat program, science, and applications

Michael A. Wulder, Thomas R. Loveland, David P. Roy, Christopher J. Crawford, Jeffrey G. Masek, Curtis E. Woodcock, Richard G. Allen, Martha C. Anderson, Alan S. Belward, Warren B. Cohen, John Dwyer, Angela Erb, Feng Gao, Patrick Griffiths, Dennis Helder, Txomin Hermosilla, James D. Hipple, Patrick Hostert, M. Joseph Hughes, Justin HuntingtonDavid M. Johnson, Robert Kennedy, Ayse Kilic, Zhan Li, Leo Lymburner, Joel McCorkel, Nima Pahlevan, Theodore A. Scambos, Crystal Schaaf, John R. Schott, Yongwei Sheng, James Storey, Eric Vermote, James Vogelmann, Joanne C. White, Randolph H. Wynne, Zhe Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

405 Scopus citations


Formal planning and development of what became the first Landsat satellite commenced over 50 years ago in 1967. Now, having collected earth observation data for well over four decades since the 1972 launch of Landsat-1, the Landsat program is increasingly complex and vibrant. Critical programmatic elements are ensuring the continuity of high quality measurements for scientific and operational investigations, including ground systems, acquisition planning, data archiving and management, and provision of analysis ready data products. Free and open access to archival and new imagery has resulted in a myriad of innovative applications and novel scientific insights. The planning of future compatible satellites in the Landsat series, which maintain continuity while incorporating technological advancements, has resulted in an increased operational use of Landsat data. Governments and international agencies, among others, can now build an expectation of Landsat data into a given operational data stream. International programs and conventions (e.g., deforestation monitoring, climate change mitigation) are empowered by access to systematically collected and calibrated data with expected future continuity further contributing to the existing multi-decadal record. The increased breadth and depth of Landsat science and applications have accelerated following the launch of Landsat-8, with significant improvements in data quality. Herein, we describe the programmatic developments and institutional context for the Landsat program and the unique ability of Landsat to meet the needs of national and international programs. We then present the key trends in Landsat science that underpin many of the recent scientific and application developments and follow-up with more detailed thematically organized summaries. The historical context offered by archival imagery combined with new imagery allows for the development of time series algorithms that can produce information on trends and dynamics. Landsat-8 has figured prominently in these recent developments, as has the improved understanding and calibration of historical data. Following the communication of the state of Landsat science, an outlook for future launches and envisioned programmatic developments are presented. Increased linkages between satellite programs are also made possible through an expectation of future mission continuity, such as developing a virtual constellation with Sentinel-2. Successful science and applications developments create a positive feedback loop—justifying and encouraging current and future programmatic support for Landsat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-147
Number of pages21
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - May 2019


  • ARD
  • Land change science
  • Land cover
  • Landsat science team
  • OLI
  • Open data
  • Remote sensing science
  • TIRS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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