Remote Sensing Platforms

Remote sensing platforms define the level of data acquisition. These levels can be orbital (represented by space platforms), aerial (represented by aircraft and helicopters) and terrestrial (represented by towers, and radiometric field systems).
Until the year 1946, sensing data was acquired essentially from aircraft or balloons. In 1946 the first photographs were taken from the V-2 rocket. These photos demonstrated the immense potential that orbital images had as they provided a new perspective on Earth observation. Despite this potential, it was only in the 1960s that remote sensing data began to be obtained from orbital platforms.

Source: “Space Flower” was the first of the 9-meter (30-foot) diameter antennas for the Application Technology Satellites (ATS). The ATS program was initiated in 1966 to demonstrate the feasibility and capability of placing a satellite in geostationary (geosynchronous) orbit over a fixed location on the Earth’s surface. The saucer-shaped antenna, built at Lockheed Missiles and Space Co., Sunnyvale, California, are constructed of aluminum ribs and Dacronmesh that are copper plated and coated with silicone. Also shown is the mold on which the mesh is sewn to the flexible ribs and later sewn in place. For the ride into space, the antenna ribs and mesh are wrapped around the hub of the antenna. When the antenna and spacecraft arrived in the proper orbit, a signal caused a restraining cable to be cut, and the antenna blossomed like an opening flower. NASA, 2021.

In 1961, the first color orbital photograph was taken from an automatic camera placed aboard the MA-4 Mercury spacecraft. From this date onwards, several other orbital missions were carried out and photographs were taken from the most diverse regions of planet Earth.

Remote sensing space platforms can be classified into manned platforms such as the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo series in the 60s and the space shuttles (Space Shuttle) from the 80s, or even the Soviet platforms Vostok, Voskod, Soyuz and unmanned, like the various programs that have existed since the launch of the first meteorological satellites. Space platforms can be classified according to the type of orbit into geostationary satellites and polar orbiting satellites.

Geostationary orbit satellites are satellites located in high orbits (at least 35,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface) in the plane of the Equator, which move at the same speed and direction as the Earth’s rotational movement, thus, the satellite it remains stationary in relation to the surface, always observing the same region. The GOES and Meteosat satellites are examples of geostationary space platforms.

Source: Graphic of NOAA-N polar-orbiting spacecraft. NOAA Photo Library, 2021.

Polar orbiting satellites are synchronous with the Sun, that is, their speed of movement perpendicular to the plane of the Equator is such that their angular position in relation to the Sun remains constant throughout the year. A polar-orbiting satellite completes an average of 15 orbits around the Earth per day. Each orbit is completed in about 100 minutes. These satellites can thus pass under all points on the Earth’s surface always at the same time, either day or night.

The first experimental satellite to carry a weather sensor on board was launched by the United States of America in 1959. The first remote sensing space platforms were the TIROS (Television Infrared Observation Sattelite) series weather satellites first launched in 1960. The program it was such a success that by 1966 there was already a global operational system for the daily acquisition of meteorological data under the administration of the NOAA (National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration).

In the early 1960s, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) initiated the Nimbus series satellite program to meet the needs of meteorological research. The program aimed not only at the development of more advanced orbital platforms, but also more advanced sensors that would allow daily and global monitoring of the Earth’s atmosphere to create a database for short- and medium-term weather forecasts. The Nimbus satellite was launched in 1964 from a polar orbit, and is the precursor to the current NOAA satellite.

Source: The Space Shuttle Atlantis is seen on launch pad 39A at the NASA Kennedy Space Center shortly after the rotating service structure was rolled back on Nov. 15, 2009. Atlantis is scheduled to launch at 2:28 p.m. EST, Nov. 16, 2009. NASA/Bill Ingalls, 2021.

In 1972, NASA launched the first Natural Resources satellite, the ERTS-1 (Earth Resources Technology Satellite), which was later renamed Landsat-1. Landsat1- was followed by a series of satellites, and in 1999 the seventh was launched with several technological innovations arising not only from the development of more efficient optical detectors and components, but also as a result of the demands of the community of users of products. remote sensing.
As of 1981, the space shuttles started to provide another alternative platform for the acquisition of remote sensing data. The space shuttle’s second mission took on board a set of sensors aimed at terrestrial remote sensing, among which stand out an imaging radar, a radiometer operating in visible and infrared. In the near future, these will be available for the acquisition of sensing data from space stations.

Remote sensing activities are not limited to the earth’s surface. In fact, they got their start from the need to obtain remote information from planets like Mars, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Uranus. There are numerous images acquired of the surface of the Moon, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn’s rings, and of the atmosphere of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. Other types of remote sensors such as altimeter radars, probes, gamma radiation detectors, radiometers are used in numerous interplanetary missions.

The use of orbital systems is becoming a necessity in a large number of disciplines connected to the environmental sciences due to the need for global and synoptic information at short intervals of revisit. These factors are essential for observing dynamic phenomena such as the atmosphere, oceans, and biological and biogeochemical processes.


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Cracknell, Arthur P. Introduction to remote sensing. CRC press, 2007.

Toth, Charles, and Grzegorz Jóźków. “Remote sensing platforms and sensors: A survey.” ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing 115 (2016): 22-36.

Matese, Alessandro, Piero Toscano, Salvatore Filippo Di Gennaro, Lorenzo Genesio, Francesco Primo Vaccari, Jacopo Primicerio, Claudio Belli, Alessandro Zaldei, Roberto Bianconi, and Beniamino Gioli. “Intercomparison of UAV, aircraft and satellite remote sensing platforms for precision viticulture.” Remote Sensing 7, no. 3 (2015): 2971-2990.

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