Earth Observation/Remote Sensing Satellites

Satellite Design


2016 – Surface Imaging – Snapshot

The majority of Earth observation satellites launched in 2016 were ##. Only ## of the ## Earth observation satellites had a launch mass of ### kilograms (### pounds) or more. The number of Earth observation satellites with a mass between ## and ## kilograms (##–## pounds) launched in 2016 was ##. Together, the Earth…

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2015 – Military Reconnaissance – Snapshot

The inherent security requirements of military operations make it very difficult to pinpoint the exact number and nature of reconnaissance satellites launched by nations. The space-based inventory of a nation’s intelligence collection can run through many different disciplines from imagery intelligence (IMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT).

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2015 – Surface Imaging – Snapshot

The number of surface imaging satellites launched continued to grow in 2015. The sub-category dominated the greater category of Earth observation and remote sensing satellites launched in 2015, taking a nearly 72% share. The majority of surface imaging satellites literally provide a picture of Earth, and changes upon its surface, at any given time, using electronic and optical imaging payloads.

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2015 – Meteorology – Snapshot

Weather and environmental satellites help humans understand and predict the atmospheric conditions of the Earth. National governments traditionally run these constellations, providing data for weather forecasting, climate modeling, and more. Weather agencies also provide data about life-threatening storms to other nations, increasing the ability of those nations to evacuate areas predicted to be hit by the storms. Slightly less than 4% of all spacecraft launched in 2015 had a meteorological or environmental mission.

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2014 – Military Reconnaissance

While many remote-sensing and Earth observation satellites can be used for reconnaissance or other types of intelligence-gathering, military-specific and government-run satellites and sensor payloads are guided by very different mission requirements and laws than their commercial counterparts. There are several intelligence disciplines, or INTs, in which reconnaissance satellites are used to gain information: imagery intelligence (IMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT).

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2014 – Meteorology

Weather satellites are a major segment of remote sensing satellites, using a mix of electro-optical, atmospheric, gravimetric, SAR, and other sensor payloads to detect fully formed weather systems as well as precursor conditions. Most weather satellites are in GEO or polar LEO orbits and have traditionally been operated by national governments for near-term weather forecasting and long-term climate modeling.

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2014 – Land Imaging

Collectively, land-imaging satellites are systems used to observe, monitor, and track changes and developments on the Earth’s surface using a variety of optical or electronic imaging capabilities. Earth observation satellites may be distinguished from each other on the basis of spatial resolution—the level of detail their images are capable of recording. Another distinction is the sensor type, such as optical cameras, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), or various types of infrared and electronic imaging.

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2013 – Military Reconnaissance

Military-specific observation satellites can be used for reconnaissance or other intelligence-gathering purposes. The capabilities of remote sensing satellites can sometimes obscure whether or not they are being used for civilian or military applications.

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2013 – Meteorology

Weather satellites are a major segment of remote sensing satellites. Most weather satellites are in GEO or polar LEO orbits and have traditionally been operated by national governments for near-term weather forecasting. However, austere government budgets have caused weather-focused agencies to struggle to sustain existing programs under reduced funding. Maintaining existing programs with old, albeit reliable, data acquisition capabilities potentially inhibits the development and introduction of new, higher quality instrumentation that could increase accuracy.

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2012 – Dual Purpose EO/RS

Many remote sensing satellites have dual military and civil or commercial purposes. India launched its indigenously developed radar imaging satellite, RISAT-1, in April 2012. The satellite will join RISAT-2 and will provide India with the ability to image features on the ground even if covered by clouds or foliage due to its use of a C-band microwave synthetic aperture radar. RISAT-2, a radar-based reconnaissance satellite, was purchased from Israel and deployed before RISAT-1 to help track and prevent terrorist activity, such as the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

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