Effects on Users of Commercializing Landsat and the Weather Satellites

RCED-84-93: Published: Feb 24, 1984. Publicly Released: Mar 6, 1984.

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The Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates two remote sensing satellite systems, the weather satellites and Landsat, which produce data for worldwide use. In March 1983, NOAA announced its decision to transfer these satellites to private enterprise because it believes that commercialization will lead to better market development for these systems. Pursuant to congressional requests, GAO examined how these satellites are used worldwide and how their commercial operation might affect users.

In November 1983, Congress enacted legislation to prevent the sale of the weather satellites. However, in terms of Landsat, GAO found that a change from government to commercial operation could mean major changes for Landsat users. Although most domestic users believed that commercialization could affect them adversely, some believed that private control of the satellites could help improve service and increase the marketing of data. On the other hand, foreign governments were concerned that a commercial operation might change data distribution arrangements, depending on the economic motives of private operators. Based on these observations, GAO concluded that Congress should consider whether the sales terms proposed by NOAA adequately protect the interests of Landsat users in the United States and abroad.

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