Earth Observation/Remote Sensing Satellites
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).
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.
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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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).
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 ##% 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.
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 ##% of all spacecraft launched in 2015 had a meteorological or environmental mission.
The German Federal Armed Forces operate a ##-satellite LEO fleet called SAR-Lupe, which provides radar imagery with one-meter (3-foot) resolution for surveillance purposes.
Funding is a serious concern for government-supported remote sensing satellite endeavors. Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program is facing difficulties because of the global economic climate, which is forcing many space programs around the world to cut costs. In November 2011, the European Commission (EC) proposed moving funding for operating the GMES space segment from the 27-member commission to the individual EU member states.