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Capabilities of Earth Observation Satellites
Atmospheric Chemistry Instruments
Atmospheric Temperature and Humidity Sounders
Cloud Profile and Rain Radars
Earth Radiation Budget Radiometers
High Resolution Optical Imagers
Imaging Multi-Spectral Radiometers (vis/IR)
Imaging Multi-Spectral Radiometers (Passive Microwave)
Imaging Microwave Radars
Multiple Direction/ Polarisation Instruments
Ocean Colour Instruments
Radar Altimeters
Gravity, Magnetic Field and Geodynamic instruments
  Earth Observation Plans by Measurement  
Catalogue of Satellite Missions
Catalogue of Satellite Instruments


Many different types of instruments are flown on space missions, employing various measurement technologies and techniques – both active and passive – that utilise a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

CEOS agencies are operating or planning around 260 satellites with an Earth observation mission over the next 15 years. These satellites will carry over 400 different instruments.

This sustained investment by the space agencies will ensure the provision of information of unique value in both public and commercial spheres, derived from the measurements of a diverse range of geophysical parameters and phenomena.

Public awareness of the applications of Earth observation satellites tends to focus on imagery (through internet applications such as Google Earth and Microsoft Live Local) and on meteorology, combined with the knowledge that data from meteorological satellites are used on a daily basis for the Numerical Weather Prediction models which drive our weather forecasting capabilities.

Meteorology is certainly one of the most established disciplines for application of Earth observation satellite data, with satellite-derived information being used operationally by weather services worldwide. Dedicated meteorological satellites have been in operation for several decades, providing continuous coverage of much of the globe.

In practice, only 80 missions, or around a third of those planned for the next 15 years, could be described as having meteorology as a primary objective. The other 180 missions will be applied to a diverse range of research, operational and commercial activities.

Given the significance of the issues, and the unique role of satellite Earth observations, many will be dedicated to different aspects of climate or environmental studies. Others will be employed to assist decision-making in strategic planning and management of industrial, economic and natural resources, including the provision of information required for sustainable development strategies. New missions serving operational needs related to land, ocean and atmospheric composition have recently been launched or will be in the near future.

Increased frequency of satellite measurements, improved satellite and sensor technology, and easier access and interpretation of Earth observation data have all contributed to increased demand for satellite data, and to the reality of new operational services being established in the near future for several domains, including monitoring of key oceanic and atmospheric parameters. Information on the various missions and instruments, their capabilities and their applications is given in sections 8 (missions) and 9 (instruments).

For ease of discussion, the different instruments listed in section 9 may be considered under the following categories:
Instrument categories
Atmospheric chemistry instruments
Atmospheric temperature and humidity sounders
Cloud profile and rain radars
Earth radiation budget radiometers
High resolution optical imagers
Imaging multi-spectral radiometers (vis/IR)
Imaging multi-spectral radiometers (passive
Imaging microwave radars
Multiple direction/polarisation instruments
Ocean colour instruments
Radar altimeters
Gravity, magnetic field and geodynamic instruments

Plans for future missions and instruments include entirely new types of measurement technology, such as hyper-spectral sensors, cloud radars, lidars and polarimetric sensors that will provide new insights into key parameters of atmospheric temperature and moisture, soil moisture and ocean salinity. Several new gravity field missions aimed at more precise determination of the marine geoid are also planned. Importantly, every effort is being made to assure continuity of existing key measurements for the generation of long-term datasets. Agency plans also reveal that future priorities will include disaster management and studies of key Earth System processes – the water cycle, carbon cycle, cryosphere, the role of clouds and aerosols in global climate change, and sea level rise.

The following section gives a brief discussion of the different types of instruments flown on Earth observation satellite missions, including a list of the relevant instruments for each type from the full catalogue in section 9, a description of the operational characteristics, and pointers to the key applications. Information on specific measurement parameters is given in section 7.





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