NASA will launch a new Earth-observing satellite today, here's how to watch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA is gearing up to launch a new Earth-observing satellite and you can watch the action live online. 

Called Landsat 9, the satellite is a joint endeavor by NASA and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The satellite is set to blast off on Monday (Sept. 27) at 11:12 a.m. PDT (2:12 p.m. EDT; 1812 GMT) from Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. 

"The United Launch Alliance team is very proud to deliver Landsat 9 to its mission orbit, and we look forward to continuing to empower crucial observation and research of this beautiful planet," Scott Messer, ULA Program Manager, NASA Launch Services, said during a prelaunch news briefing on Saturday (Sept. 25). "We've successfully launched 144 missions as United Launch Alliance, and we look forward to continuing that 100% mission success with our 145th launch on Monday." 

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The launch was originally scheduled to blast off on Sept. 16, but liftoff was pushed back to Sept. 23, following a delay in a crucial liquid nitrogen delivery. The delay is related to a worldwide shortage of liquid oxygen caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Liquid oxygen is also a crucial component of rocket launches, since it is used as an oxidizer in conjunction with whatever fuel a rocket uses — in this case, RP-1 or rocket-grade kerosene. The company that supplies Vandenberg Space Force Base with its liquid nitrogen temporarily stopped deliveries to divert its trucks to resupply area hospitals with liquid oxygen.

Due to a SpaceX Starlink launch last week that delayed moving the new satellite to the launch pad, the Landsat 9 team ultimately chose Monday as the launch day, according to mission officials at NASA. 

Landsat 9's mission 

The Landsat 9 mission, which cost around $750 million, is the ninth satellite in the Landsat program and will continue the program's role of monitoring and managing land resources like crops, water and forests. Landsat satellites have been an invaluable resource for scientists since the first satellite launched in 1972, providing nearly 50 years' worth of uninterrupted data to scientists on the ground. 

The Landsat 9 satellite will replace the Landsat 7 satellite, which has been in orbit since 1999, and will work in tandem with Landsat 8, which launched in 2013. The Landsat 8/9 duo will image the Earth every eight days. 

The images collected by the Landsat satellites were made public in 2008, and many scientists around the world rely on them to monitor changes in the world's forests, glaciers and more.

"The free and open access of the Landsat data is an incredibly valuable resource," Chris Crawford, a project scientist at USGS, said during the prelaunch news conference on Saturday. "In fact, Landsat is second only to GPS in terms of value."

Landsat 9 carries two different scientific instruments — the Operational Land Imager 2 (OLI-2) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2 (TIRS-2) — that will analyze light reflected from the planet in different wavelengths to detect even the most minute changes in the lakes, rivers and forests around the world. 

While Landsat satellites mainly focus on imaging land, they can also track changes in lake sizes, water quality and flooding and help with the early detection of algal blooms.

Ride to space 

Landsat 9 will ride to orbit atop a ULA Atlas V rocket, which will fly in its simplest configuration: the 401, which consists of a 4-meter payload fairing, a single-engine Centaur upper stage and no solid rocket boosters. The flight will mark the 145th Atlas V mission to date and the 88th for NASA. 

Joining Landsat 9 for the ride are four small satellites called cubesats. These miniature satellites will perform a variety of science investigations, including taking measurements of the solar wind and ultraviolet light emanating from stars. 

Those cubesats will deploy once Landsat 9 has been deposited in space. 

Weather officials with the 30th Space Delta at Vandenberg Space Force base have predicted a less than 10% chance of unfavorable conditions at liftoff. There is a backup launch attempt on Tuesday if poor weather should crop up. 

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Amy Thompson
Contributing Writer

Amy Thompson is a Florida-based space and science journalist, who joined as a contributing writer in 2015. She's passionate about all things space and is a huge science and science-fiction geek. Star Wars is her favorite fandom, with that sassy little droid, R2D2 being her favorite. She studied science at the University of Florida, earning a degree in microbiology. Her work has also been published in Newsweek, VICE, Smithsonian, and many more. Now she chases rockets, writing about launches, commercial space, space station science, and everything in between.