Satellite Technology

Sentinel-1B. Image: ESA–Manuel Pedoussaut. Landsat 8. Image: NASA. Swarm Earth Explorer constellation. Image: ESA-P. Carril.

Among the services that satellites can provide for disaster risk management and emergency response are weather forecasting, remote sensing, geo-positioning, navigation, television and telecommunication. Instruments onboard satellites circling the Earth are designed to cover specific wavelength ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum in order to capture images, atmospheric sounding, satellite communication, geo-positioning and navigation.

Satellites are circling Earth in different orbits depending on the type of application or instrument onboard: A satellite in a geostationary orbit circles the Earth above the equator (0° latitude) synchronously to the Earth's rotation. Its apparently fixed position above a point on the equator at an altitude of more than 36,000 km makes it suitable for communications and regional climate observation of that specific area, with high temporal but low spatial resolution.

Earth observation satellites and satellites for meteorological purposes are located in low Earth orbit at an altitude of typically about 500-800 km and near polar inclination. Due to their orbit, these satellites provide global coverage with comparatively lower temporal, but medium to very high spatial resolution. Due to the high costs of space transportation, constellations of communication or navigation satellites are also placed in Low Earth Orbit.

Earth Observation satellites use either optical or radar sensors to capture images of Earth: Optical sensors for Earth observation are designed to deliver images in either panchromatic spectral format or multispectral format. Panchromatic refers to images in black and white that are reflected from Earth's surface exposed to all visible light. Multispectral images usually include four bands of the electromagnetic spectrum: blue, green, red and near-infrared.

Radar sensors for Earth observation are designed to operate in the microwave range.

Overview on satellite missions and instruments

Hazard types: Forest Fire, Drought, Geophysical, Hydrological
Applications: Amazônia-1 image data will be used to monitor deforestation, particularly over the Amazon region in Brazil. Other applications will include monitoring of agricultural dynamics, coastal regions, water reservoirs, natural disasters, and more.
Launch Date: Feb 2021
Operator: INPE
Hazard types: Forest Fire, Glacial Lake Outburst, Drought, Landslide, Flood, Severe Storm, Extreme Temperature
Applications: To provide continuity of the reference, high-precision ocean topography service after Jason-3.
Launch Date: Nov 2020
Hazard types: Forest Fire, Glacial Lake Outburst, Drought, Landslide, Flood
Applications: Earth observation and emergency management with an L-band SAR.
Launch Date: Aug 2020
Operator: CONAE, ASI
Hazard types: Earthquake, Flood
Applications: Monitoring ice conditions and flooding, detecting and monitoring oil spills, providing daily global coverage of wind storms, and providing high-resolution imagery of earthquake-prone areas.
Launch Date: Jun 2019
Operator: Canadian Space Agency
Hazard types: Harmful Algal Bloom, Forest Fire
Applications: The main fields of expected benefits of hyperspectral data are the following: - forest analysis (e.g., forest disturbance, forest fires, forest classification, biomass analysis) - precision agriculture (e.g., crop mapping, crop rotation, crop stress analysis, fertilization) - inland and coastal waters (e.g., Water quality, chlorophyll monitoring, alga bloom) - climate change and environmental research (e.g., desertification, deforestation, vegetation stress, environmental degradation and hazards) - raw material exploration and mining - soil degradation and soil properties.
Launch Date: Mar 2019
Operator: ASI
Hazard types: Drought, Extreme Temperature, Flood, Severe Storm
Applications: Providing weather data services to monitor the climate and improve weather forecasts
Launch Date: Nov 2018
Hazard types: Forest Fire, Drought, Flood
Applications: Earth observation and emergency management with an S-band SAR.
Launch Date: Sep 2018
Hazard types: Meteorological
Applications: Aeolus provides global observations of wind profiles, also in cloud-free areas or winds throughout vertical wind columns. It can also produce useful information on ocean salinity and frozen expanses as well as insights into the wind’s influence on heat and soil moisture within the Earth's surface. Its measurements can help scientists better understand global environmental challenges such as extreme natural disasters, global warming, and air pollution.
Launch Date: Aug 2018
Operator: ESA
Hazard types: Forest Fire, Drought, Volcanic Eruption, Extreme Temperature
Applications: ECOSTRESS will measure variations in ground temperatures to within a few tenths of a degree.These measurements should indicate how plants respond to water shortages and how certain regions are likely to respond to future changes in climate.
Launch Date: Jun 2018
Operator: NASA


For additional information, please visit the following external resources:

  • European Space Agency's (ESA) satellite mission database on the EOPortal database (link)
  • Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) and ESA database (link)

External tutorials on satellite technologies and Earth observation

Below you will find links to external handbooks, guides and tutorials on satellite technology.

Guides: Earth observation applications

  • CEOS Earth Observation Handbook: Satellite Earth Observations in Support of Disaster Risk Reduction (link)
  • CEOS Earth Observation Handbook: Satellite Earth Observations in Support of Climate Information Challenges (link)
  • CEOS Earth Observation Handbook: Satellite Earth Observations in Support of the Sustainable Development Goals (link)

Guides: Introduction to remote sensing

  • Introduction to radar remote sensing of the remote sensing education initiative (SAREDU) of DLR (link)
  • Tutorial on fundamentals of remote sensing of CNRS (link)
  • Tutorial on radar polarimetry (CNRS) (link)
  • Tutorial on satellite data reception (link)
  • Image interpretation quiz (link)

Guides: Didactic material on satellite technology for children and schools

  • EDUSPACE of ESA aims to provide secondary school students and teachers with a learning and teaching tool. It is meant to be an entry point for space image data, and, in particular, to a widespread visibility of Earth observation applications for education and training. (link)
  • Watching over our Planet from Space - A kit for kids (CNRS) (link)
  • Remote Sensing in schools (University of Bonn and DLR) (link)
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