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Earth Observation Satellites


A large number of satellites is used today to explore the earth's atmosphere, the oceans, the earth's structure and the biosphere. Satellites employ a large variety of instruments and techniques from remote sensing and inverse problems to monitor and visualize physical, chemical and biological processes taking place above, in or on the surface of our planet earth.

An alternative (not complete) List of Earth Observation Satellites can be found at List of Earth Observing Satellites. Also, the world meteorological organization is collecting material, see WMO OSCAR. The big satellite missions are run for example by

For political activites see also: Group on Earth Observation, which is trying to build the “Global Earth Observation System of Systems” (GEOSS) from 2005 to 2015.

Here, we link important satellites and satellite programs. Currently, this is a selection only.

Earth Observing System (NASA, JAXA, CNES, ...)

Research programme of NASA for earth observation, which started in 1997 and is part of NASA's earth science enterprise programme. See EOS Mission List. The programme includes the missions

  • SeaWiFS (Aug 1, 1997-Dec 11, 2010),
  • TRMM (Nov27, 1997. Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, NASA+JAXA),
  • Landsat 7 (Apr 15, 1999, USGS, global archive of satellite photos, cloud-free),
  • QuikSCAT (Jun 19, 1999, Scatterometer for sea surface winds),
  • Terra (Dec 18, 1999, multi-national, instruments: ASTER, CERES, MISR, MODIS, MOPITT),
  • ACRIMSAT (Dec 20, 1999, total solar irradiation (TSI), active cavity radiometer),
  • NMP/EO-1 (Nov 21, 2000, new millenium program, new imaging techniques),
  • Jason 1 (Dec 7, 2001, ocean circulation monitoring, see series below),
  • Meteor 3M-1/Sage III, Dec 10, 2001, temperature and humidity profiles, clouds, surface properties, …)
  • GRACE (Mar 17, 2002, with DLR and GFZ (Germany), Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, see below),
  • Aqua (May 4, 2002, see below),
  • ADEOS II (Midori II) (Dec 12, 2002 - Oct 2003, NASA, NASDA (Japan), CNES (France), solar panels failed),
  • ICESat (Jan 12, 2003-Feb 2010, ice sheet mass balance, cloud and aerosol height, topography, vegetation),
  • SORCE (Jan 25, 2003, solar radiation and climate experiment),
  • Aura (Jul 16, 2004, ozone layer measurements, air quality and climate, HIRDLS, MLS, OMI, TES, see below),
  • CloudSat (April 28, 2006, cloud profiling radar CPR, A-Train)
  • CALIPSO (April 28, 2006, NASA and CNES (France), Cloud Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations, Wide Field Camera WFC, Imaging Infrared Radiometer IIR),
  • NMP/EO-3 (planned for 2005-6, mission cancelled).
  • Hydros (Jun 2006, further information missing!),
  • NPOESS, (see below),
  • OSTM (Jun 20, 2008, Ocean Surface Topography Mission on Jason-2, see below),
  • OCO (Feb 23, 2009, launch failed),
  • Aquarius (Jun 10, 2011, sea surface salinity measurements, ),

Aqua (EOS PM-1)

Studying precipitation, evaporation and cycling of water, it carries the instruments Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer EOS AMSR-E, Moderat REsolution Imaging Spectroradiometer MODIS, Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit AMSU-A, Atmospheric Infrared Sounder AIRS, Humidity Sounder for Brasil HSB, Clouds and Earth's Radiant Energy System CERES.


The aura mission was launched July 14, 2004, dedicated to monitoring the atmospheric composition, ozone distribution and air quality. Measurement instruments include the High resoludion dynamic limb sounder HIRDLS, the microwave limb sounder MLS, the ozone measuring instrument OMI and the tropospheric emission spectrometer TES.

See Aura Website at NASA, Aura mission page or Aura at Wikipedia.



The grace mission consists of twin satellites launched in March 2002, with the goal to measure the earth's gravity field. The mission monitors for example the amount of water ressources in underground basins in large parts of the earth.

See mission website at GRACE or Grace Wikipedia Site.

JASON Satellites (Ocean Monitoring)

  • Jason-1, since 12/2001. Jason-1 was desined to measure the global ocean circulation and to study the links between ocean and atmosphere. It is a joint project by NASA and CNES. It was a successor to the TOPEX/Poseidon mission. Its instruments include Poseidon 2 Radar Altimeter, Jason Microwave Radiometer JMR, DORIS Doppler Orbitography and Radiopositioning Integrated bz Satellite, BlackJack Global Positioning System receiver and a Laser retroreflector for positioning calibration. See Jason Site at CNRS or Jason 1 at Wikipedia.
  • Jason 2 - Ocean Surface Topography Mission, since 06/2008. Instruments: AMR, Carmen-2, DORIS, GPSP, LPT, LRA, Poseidon-3, T2L2. See OSTM Site or Jason-2 on Wikipedia. OSTM/Jason-2 is jointly organized by NASA, NOAA, CNES, with product development by Eumetsat.

See also OCEANOGRAPHIE SPATIALE and Aviso. * Ocean Surface Topography Mission

  • Orbview-2
  • Orbiting Carbon Observatory
  • Terra (EOS AM-1)

US Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites

  • GOES 12, launched Jul 23, 2001, currently in standby state in orbit.
  • GOES 13, launched May 24, 2006
  • GOES 14, launched Jun 27, 2009, in standby mode
  • GOES 15, launched Mar 4, 2010
  • GOES-R, to be launched in 2015
  • GOES-S, to be launched in 2017

See Nasa's GOES Site.

US National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS/POES)

POES stands for “polar orbiting environmental satellites”. The programme is a joint effort of NOAA and EUMETSAT, in cooperation with NASA and ESA. It includes NOAA-Series and MetOp satellites (see below).

  • NOAA-15, TIROS series, weather satellite, launched May 13, 1998, AMSU-A/B, AVHRR, HIRS/3, SEM/2. S-band transmitter problems.
  • NOAA-16, TIROS series, weather satellite, launched Sept 21, 2000, AMSU, AVHRR, HIRS, SBUV/2
  • NOAA-17, weather satellite, launched June 24, 2002, AMSU-A/B, AVHRR, HIRS, …
  • NOAA-18, POES series, weather satellite, launched May 20, 2005, AMSU-A, MHS, AVHRR, HIRS, SBUV/2.
  • NOAA-19, POES series, NOAA-N Prime, weather satellite, launched Feb 6, 2009, AVHRR/3, HIRS/4, AMSU-A, SBUV/2, MHS.

See US POES Site.

US Landsat Programme


Landsat is a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US, run since 1966 (until 1979 led by NASA). It was first called “Earth Resources Technology Satellites Program”,

  • Landsat 1, launched July 23, 1972, ended Jan 6, 1978.
  • Landsat 2, launched Jan 22, 1975, ended January 22, 1981
  • Landsat 3, launched Mar 5, 1978, ended March 31, 1983
  • Landsat 4, launched Jul 16, 1982, ended in 1993
  • Landsat 5, launched Mar 1, 1984, ended in 2012.
  • Landsat 6, launched Oct 5, 1993, failed.
  • Landsat 7, launched Apr 15, 1999, scan line corrector failed in 2003, still providing data …
  • Landsat 8 (Data Continuity Mission), launched Feb 11, 2013.

See Landsat timeline, Landsat history, Landsat Wikipedia Site.

Europe's ESA Earth Observing Missions

Envisat (Environmental Satellite)

Launch March 1, 2002. End of Mission May 9, 2012. ESA's Envisat Homepage, Envisat (Wikipedia).

ERS (European Remote Sensing) Satellite

  • ERS-1, launch 1991, mission ended March 10, 2000.
  • ERS-2, launch 1995, mission ended Sept 5, 2011.

See ESA's ERS Site.

Earth Explorer (ADM-Aeolus)

Sentinel Satellites

Sentinel is an ESA and GMES programme to lauch a series of satellites for earth observation with applications in land, ocean and atmospheric monitoring.

  • Sentinel-1, polar-orbiting, all-wather, day-and-night radar imaging, for land and ocean services, to be launched in 2014.
  • Sentinel-2, polar-orbiting, multispectral high-resolution imaging, for vegetation, soil and water cover, to be launched in 2014.
  • Sentinel-3, polar-orbiting, sea surface topography, SST, to be launched in 2014.
  • Sentinel-4, geostationary, on Meteosat Third Generation MTG-S in, payload, atmospheric monitoring, to be launched in 2019.
  • Sentinel-5 Precursor, atmospheric monitoring, to be launched in 2015.
  • Sentinel-5, payload on MetOP 2nd Generation, atmospheric monitoring, to be launched in 2020.

See ESA Sentinel Page, see also Sentinel (Wikipedia).

Meteosat Second Generation (MSG)

A series of four geostationary meteorological satellites.

  • MSG-1 (= Meteosat-8), launched Jan 29, 2004.
  • MSG-2 (= Meteosat-9), launched Dec 21, 2005.
  • MSG-3 (= Meteosat-10), launched July 5, 2012.
  • MSG-4, planned for 2014.

See ESA's MSG Site or Meteosat Page on Wikipedia.

Meteosat Third Generation (MTG)

A series of geostationary meteorological satellites.

See Eumetsat MTG Site or Meteosat Page on Wikipedia.


A series of three weather and climate observation satellites.

  • Metop-A, launched Oct 19, 2006.
  • Metop-B, launched Sept 17, 2012.
  • Metop-C, to be launched in 2017.

See ESA's MetOp Site or MetOp on Wikipedia.

Proba Technology Demonstrator

  • Proba-1, launched Oct 22, 2001.
  • Proba-2, launched Nov 2, 2009.
  • Proba-3, to be launched in 2015/2016.
  • Proba-V (V=Vegetation), to be launched in 04/2013.

ESA's Proba Site

JAXA Earth Exploration Satellites

Weather Observation

  • Himawari 1-5
  • Himawari 6
  • Himawari 7
  • Himawari 8
  • Himawari 9

Earth Observation


  • Kyokko
  • Jikiken
  • Denpa
  • Ohozora
  • Ume
  • Foyo-1
  • Midori I + II
  • Daichi

In Operation:

  • Akebono
  • Ibuki
  • Aqua (see above)
  • TRMM (see above)
  • Shizuku


  • GCOM-C1
  • GPM
  • EarthCARE
  • Daichi 2, 3

see JAXA List at Wikipedia.

Further Missions

New Millennium Program (NMP) by NASA 1998-2009

NASA's effort to investigate and develop new technologies for space applications. It was cancelled by the US Congress in 2009. Its “deep space” missions were renamed “space technology” in 2000.

  • Deep Space 1 (1998-2001)
  • Deep Space 2 (1999, failed: Mars surface investigation)
  • Earth Observing 1 (EO-1) (launched 2000)
  • Space Technology 5 (launched 2006, cluster of three satellites, earth's magnetosphere research)
  • Space Technology 6 (aboard EO-1)

Cancelled missions:

  • Deep Space 3/ Space Technology 3
  • Deep Space 4/ Space Technology 4 (planned for 2003, cancelled 1999)
  • Earth Observing 2 (cancelled 1998)
  • Earth Observing 3 (GIFTS) (planned for 2005-6, cancelled)
  • Space Technology 7 (planned for 2009, cancelled)
  • Space Technology 8 (planned for 2009, cancelled)
  • Space Technology 9 (proposal stage)


The following Missions need to be sorted appropriately.


A-train satellites: Aqua Aura CALIPSO CloudSat GCOM-W1 (Shizuku)

Geostationary meteorological satellites: Elektro-L Fengyun-2 GOES INSAT Meteosat MTSAT (Himawari)


ADEOS (Midori) ADEOS II (Midori 2) FORMOSAT-1 Geosat GMS (Himawari) ICESat Nimbus Parasol SEASAT SeaWiFS TIROS TOPEX/Poseidon UARS Vanguard

Further completed EOS Missions (see EOS Missions):

  • Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS) September 12, 1991
  • ATLAS March 24, 1992
  • TOPEX/Poseidon August 10, 1992
  • Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C (SIR-C) April 19, 1994
  • Radar Satellite (RADARSAT) November 4, 1995
  • Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer-Earth Probe (TOMS-EP) July 2, 1996
  • Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS) August 17, 1996
  • Orbview-2/SeaWiFS August 1, 1997
  • Tomographic Experiment using Radiative Recombinative Ionospheric EUV and Radio Sources (TERRIERS) May 18, 1999
  • Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) February 11, 2000
  • Challenging Mini-Satellite Payload (CHAMP) July 15, 2000
  • Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE III) December 10, 2001
  • SeaWinds (ADEOS II) December 14, 2002
  • Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) January 12, 2003


  • Glory March 4, 2011
topics/earth_observation_satellites.txt · Last modified: 2013/04/25 08:11 by potthast