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Steering A Satellite: New Capability Comes To South Dakota

A rendering of the Landsat 9 satellite.


People in South Dakota could soon have control of a space object, apparently for the first time in the state’s history.

The new capability is coming to the federal government’s Earth Resources Observation and Science Center, known by the acronym EROS, near Sioux Falls.

The staff at EROS has been processing satellite imagery since 1972, but the facility has never been able to control a satellite’s movements – until now.

NASA plans to launch a new Landsat observational satellite in September to replace one of the program’s two current satellites. The backup operations center for the new satellite is located at EROS.

That means EROS stands ready to take control of the satellite in case of an emergency or maintenance at the main operations center, which is in Maryland at the Goddard Space Flight Center. EROS could also take control periodically for training.

“This is really, really big for EROS in that, for the first time, EROS actually has a capability to be able to command the satellite and perform flight operations,” said Brain Sauer, Landsat engineering and development manager at EROS.

The backup operations center for previous Landsat satellites has been in Maryland, in the same state as the main operations center. Sauer said moving the backup center farther away to South Dakota provides more insurance in case of a catastrophic event.

Sauer said the recent installation of the backup center equipment is an exciting development for EROS and South Dakota.

“I think it is a point of pride,” he said. “It’s great to see it come here. You know, even though it’s a backup capability, it’s a step.”

EROS employs about 600 people. It’s part of the U.S. Geological Survey.

-Contact reporter Seth Tupper by email.

Seth supervises SDPB's beat reporters and newscast team. He works at SDPB's Black Hills Studio in Rapid City.
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