The President’s Proposed FY 2012 Budget requests $48 million to establish a National Land Imaging Program (NLIP) within the U.S. Geological Survey, which resides within the Department of the Interior. The USGS, a longtime Landsat partner with NASA, is already budgeted to operate Landsat 5 and 7 and to maintain the entire Landsat archive of data from 1972 to present as part of its Land Remote Sensing Program. The duties and budget of the Landsat Remote Sensing Program will be merged into the new National Land Imaging Program giving NLIP a total budget of nearly $100 million for FY 2012.

Funding for NLIP will ramp up as Landsat 9 development progresses. The FY 2012 budget will cover the creation of the NLIP organization, a science advisory team, and initial Landsat 9 and 10 planning. NASA has traditionally outlined requirements, paid for, and overseen Landsat satellite builds by commercial contractors. In the NLIP scenario, USGS will create the requirements and supply funding for the satellite, but NASA will still oversee the satellite build, i.e., NASA will be the “acquisition agent.”

NLIP will provide a permanent “home” for Landsat management. As such, NLIP will be a major milestone in a long sought operational status for the Landsat Program.  The Landsat Science Team leader, Dr. Curtis Woodcock, told Space News: “This step is long overdue. For a long time our government has had trouble deciding how to handle operational remote sensing programs for land, and hopefully this is the step that will get us past the bureaucratic hurdle and onto a path that ensures a steady stream of Landsat data.”

The important role of Landsat data in land use and climate change research and the need for a steady continuous stream of Landsat data are major drivers behind NLIP’s creation. USGS Director Marcia McNutt stated in a recent USGS Press Release that, “There is no commercial replacement for the breadth and depth of data collected by Landsat satellites, which are then used in a multitude of ways by the agricultural, water management, disaster response, and scientific communities.” The estimated annual value of Landsat data to the U.S. economy is $935 million.

NASA will complete the current build of the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (Landsat 8), scheduled to launch in December 2012. LDCM is one of three NASA Earth Science Missions kept on schedule in the proposed budget; other missions that had been accelerated will now be delayed.

Further Information:
+ “Obama Proposal Puts USGS in Charge of Future Landsats” Space News [external link] + President’s 2012 USGS Budget Proposal, USGS Press Release
+ President’s $12.2 Billion Budget for Interior…, DOI Press Release
+ FY 2012 Budget Estimate for NASA Earth Science (pdf)