Landsat satellites were launched into orbit in 1972 and 1975. Additional Landsat satellites are planned for launch in 1978 and 1981. The satellites orbit the Earth at an altitude of approximately 900 km and each can obtain repetitive coverage of cloud-free areas every 18 days. A sun-synchronous orbit is used to insure repeatable illumination conditions. Repetitive satellite coverage allows optimal cover conditions for geologic applications to be identified. Seasonal variations in solar illumination must be analyzed to select the best Landsat data for geologic applications. Landsat data may be viewed in stereo where there is sufficient sidelap and sufficient topographic relief. Landsat-1 ceased operation on January 10, 1978. Landsat-2 detects, only solar radiation that is reflected from the Earth's surface in visible and near-visible wavelengths. The third Landsat will also detect emitted thermal radiation. The multispectral scanner (MSS) was the only sensing instrument used on the first two satellites. The MSS on Landsats-1 and -2 detect radiation which is reflected from a 79 m by 79 m area, and the data are formatted as if the measurement was made from a 56 m by 79 m area.
The MSS integrates spectral response from all cover types within the 79 m by 79 m area. The integrated spectral signature often does not resemble the spectral signature from individual cover types, and the integrated signature is also modified by the atmosphere. Landsat-1 and -2 data are converted to 70 mm film and computer compatible tapes (CCT's) at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC); these are shipped to the EROS Data Center (EDC) for duplication and distribution to users. Landsat-C data will be converted to 241 mm-wide film and CCT's at EDC. Landsat-D data will be relayed from the satellite directly to geosynchronous satellites and then to the United States from any location on Earth.