Economic Valuation of Landsat Imagery

Open-File Report 2019-1112
By: , and 



Landsat satellites have been operating since 1972, providing a continuous global record of the Earth’s land surface. The imagery is currently available at no cost through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). A previous USGS study estimated that Landsat imagery provided users an annual benefit of $2.19 billion in 2011, with U.S. users accounting for $1.79 billion of those benefits. That study, published in 2013, surveyed users in 2012 about Landsat imagery they retrieved in 2011. But since then, many changes have altered the demand for and supply of remotely sensed imagery and have made the analysis complex. This report updates these estimates, surveying users in 2018 about Landsat images they retrieved in 2017. The report discusses changes in the value per scene in 2017 when compared to 2011 and analyzes the potential consequences of charging fees. Landsat imagery has been available at no cost to the public since 2008, resulting in the distribution of millions of scenes each subsequent year. In addition, tens of thousands of Landsat users have registered with the USGS to access the data. Considering the number of Landsat data users worldwide and the broad range of Landsat data applications, it is difficult to quantify the cascading benefits to society provided by Landsat imagery. The value of Landsat imagery to these users was demonstrated by the substantial aggregated annual economic benefit from the imagery. Landsat imagery provided domestic and international users an estimated $3.45 billion in benefits in 2017 compared to $2.19 billion in 2011, with U.S. users accounting for $2.06 billion of those benefits. Much of the societal value of Landsat stems from the free and open data policy that allows users to access as much imagery as is necessary for their analysis at no cost. Charging even small fees would result in a loss of users and, most likely, a steep decline in the amount of imagery downloaded. It is reasonable that more than 50 percent of users will decline to pay. The consequences of charging for Landsat imagery would be felt by downstream users as well, through increased prices for value-added products as well as more intangible effects, such as reduced monitoring of environmental hazards.

Suggested Citation

Straub, C.L., Koontz, S.R., and Loomis, J.B., 2019, Economic valuation of Landsat imagery: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2019–1112, 13 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Valuation Method
  • Sample Frame and Sample Design
  • Survey Implementation
  • Results
  • Annual Value of Landsat
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Economic valuation of landsat imagery
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2019-1112
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191112
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description iv, 13 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details