Topic 2a - Overview of types of missions, instrumentation and data

Welcome to Week 2. This week will focus in more depth on the techniques, technologies and applications involved in observing the atmosphere and land from space. But in this first topic of the week we will recap on the range of EO missions and instruments and look in a bit more depth at how data are acquired.

Earth observation technology has developed immensely over the past fifty years since the first satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched into low Earth orbit in 1957 carrying a simple radio transmitter. Advancements in science, communication and instrumentation have enabled Space agencies to transform the design, build and payloads of satellites to deal with far more complex missions.

The development of new techniques such as multispectral and hyperspectral passive remote sensing instruments, along with lidar and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) active sensors, has allowed satellite missions to be tailored to a much wider range of applications over the years. ESA’s Environmental Satellite (Envisat), launched in 2002, carried a multitude of different sensors and was tasked to provide observations related to many elements of the Earth’s oceans, land, atmosphere and cryosphere, providing a vast array of key information and data products. ESA is now developing and deploying the Sentinel range of EO satellites to support Europe’s Copernicus programme, and this is Europe’s most ambitious EO programme to date.

The programme will provide timely and accurate information related to a whole suite of Earth system processes and parameters, as did Envisat, but will do this over the long term, using multiple similar satellites over the next few decades, rather than being a single ‘one off’ mission. It is hoped that this continuity of observation will help to ensure identification of trends in the Earth system, wide take-up of the data, and use of the data in new application areas. The information derived from the ESA Sentinels and the Copernicus programme will be made easily accessible to a wide range of users.

Now that such a diverse range of Earth system parameters can be assessed using data from EO satellites, continuously and often at a near global scale, our ability to observe, monitor and understand the Earth system as a whole has significantly increased.

This video introduces the ESA Sentinels and the Copernicus programme, along with a range of other recent and current Earth observation missions, explores the basic types of approach these satellites employ, and explains some of the types of data products that they produce.

Featured Educators:

  • Professor Alan O’Neill
  • Professor Martin Wooster

Other Featured Experts:

  • Dr Stephen Briggs

View featured satellites on the satellite tracking app

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.