Geoscience Australia's role in the Landsat 8 satellite mission

The first Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) path acquired and processed successfully by Geoscience Australia, from its Alice Springs satellite ground station facility, was on 12 May 2013 during the commissioning phase of LDCM. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced on 30 May 2013 that LDCM is now operational and has been renamed Landsat 8.

Table 1. Colour palettes applied to the Landsat 8 bands in Figure 3.
  Red colour palette Green colour palette Blue colour palette
Land Short wave infra-red (band 6) Near infra-red (band 5) Green (band 3)
Water Red (band 4) Green (band 3) Deep blue (band 1)

As an International Cooperator and member of the Landsat Science Team, Geoscience Australia maintains close technical and scientific links to assist with satellite operations, scientific developments, and planning for future missions.

As part of the Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) and membership to the Landsat Science Team Geoscience Australia will:

  • receive the data from the satellite in real-time using its downlink facility at Alice Springs. This includes ancillary data such as spacecraft and calibration data required to process the data into scientific products
  • participate in data exchange and validation of its processed level 1 products
  • provide Australia's input and perspective on Landsat data characterisation, science data products and data applications and
  • compare surface reflectance measurements collected by Landsat 5, 7 and 8.

Geoscience Australia is also committed in continuing:

  • its ongoing Australian collection of Landsat data from 1979 to the present therefore plans to capture and maintain a complete coverage of Landsat 8 imagery over Australia
  • its processing of Landsat data to Australian standards with projections and pixel sizes of 25 metres consistent with the ANZLIC national nested grid concept and
  • the development of algorithms to routinely derive normalised surface reflectance measurements from the Landsat 8 data. This will provide continuity with recently released products the Australian Reflectance Grid 25 (ARG25) and will continue the achievements of the 'Unlocking the Landsat Archive' project.

Landsat 8 products will be available at no cost from Geoscience Australia. Geoscience Australia is currently tailoring its algorithms and production system to produce normalised surface reflectance products from Landsat 8 data and plans to process all Landsat 8 data to this level. Geoscience Australia plans to make these products available as web services. In the interim Landsat 8 data products are now available on-line from the USGS website External link icon.

Improved capabilities of Landsat 8

Landsat 8 has two main instruments the Operational Land Imager (OLI) and the Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) compared to the one sensor Enhanced Thematic Mapper + (ETM+) on Landsat 7. The two sensors on Landsat 8 as seen in Figure 4 provide additional bands including a deep blue band (1), a 'cirrus' band (9) and split the thermal infrared band (6) in the ETM+ sensor into two separate bands (10 and 11).

Figure 4: Spectral resolution comparison between Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper + (ETM+) and Landsat 8 Operational Land Imager (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS). Image courtesy of USGS.


The anticipated improvements seen from the band changes in the Landsat 8 instruments include the following:

  • the additional 'deep blue' band (1) to Landsat 8 will enable optical water quality mapping, and improve the understanding of sediment and carbon dynamics within estuaries and near-shore environments
  • the additional 'cirrus' band (9) will improve the capacity to remove cloud from imagery. This is especially important for mapping forest extent and forest cover change in tropical and sub-tropical environments
  • the availability of two thermal infra-red bands (10 and 11) will enable better characterisation of evapotranspiration, plant water use and water stress.  This will improve the capacity to map patterns of water use and will improve the accuracy of water balance models
  • the improved signal to noise characteristics of Landsat 8 data will improve the capacity to map and monitor rangeland, wetlands, shallow water bathymetry and benthic substrates such as sea grass meadows and coral reefs.

Topic contact: Last updated: June 12, 2013