The Office of Management and Budget removed a major barrier to private operation and management of the Landsat satellite system yesterday by agreeing that the federal government will assume the cost of the change.
The agreement ends almost two years of bureaucratic wrangling between OMB Director David A. Stockman and Congress, which passed legislation in 1983 authorizing the Landsat turnover. Stockman objected on grounds that it would cost the federal government too much and suggested that the entire Landsat program be killed.
The agreement yesterday said the government will pick up the $286 million turnover cost.
President Reagan will submit to Congress a supplemental request of $75 million for the fiscal 1985 budget and an "amendment" of $50 million for the fiscal 1986 budget, according to the agreement. Both sums will allow the Commerce Department to begin the process that turns Landsat over to private industry.
Though the agreement does not specify which segment of industry is to take over Landsat, only EOSAT (Earth Observation Satellite Co.) of Arlington has bid for it. Eastman Kodak Co. was involved in early bidding but dropped out about a year ago, leaving EOSAT, owned jointly by RCA and Hughes Aircraft Co., as the sole bidder.
The agreement will give EOSAT enough federal funds to develop and build two new Landsat satellites that will be carried into polar orbits aboard the space shuttle within the next five years.
Flying north-to-south at an altitude of 560 miles, the Landsats will be able to cover every spot on the globe every two weeks using cameras and other instruments.
Also included in the agreement is construction of an Earth station in the United States to receive Landsat pictures and information.
Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Science and Technology subcommittee on natural resources, agriculture research and environment, hailed the agreement as "welcome news." "More than $1.5 billion has been spent on the Landsat program," Scheuer said. "It would be foolish to kill the project at this stage.
"Without this transfer plan, we would have given the edge of the remote-imaging field to the French and Japanese and would have sounded the death knell on what could become an important domestic industry."
Four Landsat satellites were put into orbit by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, only one of which is still working. Each satellite has used progressively higher technology to furnish a close-up look at Earth's land and water resources. Countries and corporations have found oil, mineral and water deposits that they might not otherwise have found with land-based technology.