On March 1, 1984, NASA launched Landsat 5, NASA's last originally mandated Landsat satellite. Landsat 5 was designed and built at the same time as Landsat 4 and carried the same payload: the Multispectral Scanner System (MSS) and the Thematic Mapper (TM) instruments.
The TM instrument was still in operation, some 27 years after its planned design life and data were regularly acquired at ground stations in the U.S. and Australia for entry into the U.S. archive. A number of International Ground Stations downloaded data for their local acquisition ares as well, and that data is now in the U.S. archive or making its way back to the U.S. archive.
In November 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stopped acquiring TM images from the 27-year-old Landsat 5 Earth observation satellite due to a rapidly degrading electronic component. The MSS instrument which had been turned off in August of 1995, was turned on again in 2011 after the TM instrument was shut down. In Dec. 2012, USGS announced that Landsat 5 would be decommissioned in early 2013. Landsat 5's last operational image collection event took place on January 6, 2013 with the MSS instrument. Landsat 5 set a Guinness World Record for longest running Earth-observation satellite.
The year Landsat 5 was launched Congress decided that land satellites could be privatized (1984 Land Remote Sensing Commercialization Act). NOAA, the agency in charge of all Landsat operations, was instructed to find a commercial vendor for Landsat data. NOAA selected Earth Observation Satellite Company (EOSAT).
The contract gave EOSAT the responsibility for archiving, collecting and distributing current Landsat data as well as the responsibility for building, launching and operating the following two Landsat satellites (with government subsidies).
Commercialization proved troublesome, EOSAT had limited commercial freedom due to provisions of the 1984 law. Given these constraints, NOAA and then EOSAT raised image prices from $650 to $3700 to $4400 and restricted redistribution. While the U.S. monopoly of Landsat-like data made this 600% increase feasible, the practice priced out many data users. (As a result, many data users migrated to the free low-resolution land data being captured by meteorological satellites.) In 1986, a French Landsat-like satellite launch broke the U.S. monopoly.
Then in 1987, the Landsat 5 TDRSS transmitter (Ku-band) failed. This failure made downlinking data acquired outside of the U.S. data acquisition circle (i.e., in the range of U.S. ground receiving antennas) impossible; Landsat 5 has no on-board data recorder to record acquired data for later downlink. So international Landsat 5 collects had to rely on international ground stations.
During the EOSAT commercialization era, Landsat global surveying goals were revisited. Many observations from 1984 to 1999 were missed because there was no obvious and immediate buyer. With commercial data marketing, it makes sense to only collect data for which there is an established customer, whereas a true scientific mission collects as much global data as possible for future scientific study. Landsat 4 and 5 system calibration and characterization lapsed during this period as well.
By 1989, with two aging satellites and no operatonal budget, NOAA directed EOSAT to turn off the satellites (no government agency was willing to commit augmentation funding for continued satellite operations and data users were unwilling to make the hefty investments in computer processing hardware if future data collection was uncertain). The program was only saved by a strong protest from Congress and foreign and domestic data users, and an intervention by the Vice President.
Given this outcry and the unexpected outcome of privatization, Congress facilitated the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992, which instructed Landsat Program Management to build a government-owned Landsat 7.
Two years after the launch of Landsat 7, Space Imaging (formerly EOSAT) returned operational responsibility for Landsat 4 and Landsat 5 back to the U.S. Government.
On July 1, 200l when operational control was officially returned to the federal government, Space Imaging also relinquished their commercial right to Landsat data, enabling the USGS to sell all Landsat 4 and Landsat 5 data in accordance with the USGS pricing policy. Landsat 5 continued to collect data until 2013 when it was decommissioned.