NASA OIG: The Landsat Program Is Not Meeting the Goals and Intent of the Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992

Status Report From: NASA Office of Inspector General
Posted: Friday, September 4, 2009

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The Issue

The Landsat Program comprises a series of Earth-observing satellite missions of, thus far, six satellites. The Program is jointly managed by NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) and the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on the basis of a memorandum of understanding. The Program has used remote sensing instruments since 1972 to gather wide-swath images of Earth's surface. Landsat images have provided over 3 decades of continuous data on changes in land cover, land use, water resources, and climate, worldwide, that researchers rely on to establish trends and prediction models. The Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) is the next satellite mission NASA is developing for USGS's Land Remote Sensing Program.1 The primary purpose of LDCM is to extend the land surface record by collecting data that can be compared to data collected by the previous Landsat satellites, including data collected via infrared imaging capability.

The overall objective of our audit was to determine whether NASA's project management of LDCM has adequately addressed risks associated with the acquisition strategy and a potential data gap between Landsats 5 and 7 and LDCM. In addition, we addressed the LDCM Project and the Landsat Program management's efforts to meet the goals and intent of the Land Remote Sensing Policy (LRSP) Act of 1992 and also addressed the impact late changes to LDCM requirements have had on mission costs and launch schedule. (Details of the audit's scope and methodology are in Appendix A.)


We found that LDCM Project management had ensured that the acquisition plan and subsidiary documents prepared for LDCM followed applicable interagency agreements, policies, regulations, and best practices. In addition, we found that LCDM Project management effectively identified, reported, and mitigated LDCM acquisition risks and had implemented an effective Earned Value Management System to improve management of cost and schedule risks. However, NASA's efforts to comply with the goals outlined in the LRSP Act of 1992 needed improvement. Specifically, NASA and the Nation's efforts to develop, launch, and operate a land remote sensing system to maintain long-term data continuity is in jeopardy because no Federal agency has been given overall responsibility for the Landsat Program and LDCM baseline requirements changed after the contract award for the spacecraft, resulting in increased Project costs and possible launch schedule delays.

Because no single Federal agency has overall responsibility for the Landsat Program, decisions about acquisition strategies were delayed, causing significant schedule delays, and thus challenging the goals and intent of the Act, which were to serve the user community's interests and maintain data continuity with the Landsat system. Over the course of more than 6 years, several alternatives for satisfying the LDCM mission objectives were considered, pursued, and rejected, resulting in LDCM and the Landsat Program not fully meeting the goals or intent of the LRSP Act of 1992. Specifically, Landsats 5 and 7 have surpassed their life spans, are operating in a degraded state, and therefore not producing a full set of data, yet LDCM is not scheduled to launch until December 2012. Establishing operational program responsibility and accountability for the Landsat Program within a single Federal agency could help ensure Landsat data continuity.

NASA removed, and now must reinstate, Landsat's legacy thermal imaging capability. Congress directed NASA to reinstate the thermal imaging capability to satisfy the user community's needs, congressional concerns, and the goals and intent of the LRSP Act of 1992. The reinstatement of the capability late in LDCM Project development has resulted in increased Project costs estimated between $11 million and $20 million and the risk of a full data gap if LDCM's launch is further delayed. Historically, NASA has made changes to Project requirements, resulting in cost and schedule impacts.

Management Action

In our July 7, 2009, draft we made five recommendations to the Associate Administrator for SMD. He concurred with the five recommendations.

Recommendation 1was that the Associate Administrator coordinate with USGS to assist in developing a plan for continuous provision of Landsat-type data, should Landsat 7 and Landsat 5 become inoperable before LDCM is operational. In response, the Associate Administrator noted that a USGS analysis of fuel usage suggests that Landsat 7 has sufficient fuel to operate through 2012 or longer, that assessments of the viability of alternative data sources continue, and that NASA will coordinate with USGS to document a plan to mitigate the potential data gap by August 31, 2010.

Our Recommendation 2 suggested that the Associate Administrator coordinate with USGS to assist in establishing the National Land Imaging Program, to include developing detailed plans for future Landsat acquisitions and agency funding responsibility for the program. In response, the Associate Administrator noted that NASA meets monthly with USGS to discuss implementation of the National Land Imaging Program and that NASA intends to work with OSTP and USGS to plan for a follow-on mission.

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