The Big Satellite List. 50 Satellites. 30 Words or Less.

Think you know remote sensing satellites?

Last Updated: April 3, 2019

The Big Satellite List

satellite feature

Think you know remote sensing satellites?

Think again.

Here are the top 50 earth observing satellites that silently orbit the Earth.

From weather forecasting to precise position, each satellite has a purpose.

We describe each one in 30 words or less. Ranked by research articles published.


1 Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)

GPS satellite

An engineering marvel. Removing selective availability has enabled us to pinpoint our exact GPS location anywhere on Earth using this 32 satellite system.

READ MORE: Trilateration vs Triangulation – How GPS Receivers Work

Image Credit: NASA

2 Landsat

Its incredible long-lived legacy has archived Earth’s history for over 40 years. With countless applications, it even found the island Landsat in Canada.

READ MORE: Landsat Program: Satellite Imagery Data and Bands

Image Credit: NASA

Landsat satellite

3 Satellite Pour l’Observation de la Terre (SPOT)

SPOT satellite

In 1986, France’s SPOT-1 satellite was cutting edge in the world of remote sensing. Since then, it has captured Earth’s vegetation, elevation and even the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine.

READ MORE: SPOT Satellite Pour l’Observation de la Terre

Image Credit: Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales CNES

4 Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM)

Tropical explorer gazing cloud structure and precipitation roughly along the equator. By understand these mechanisms, scientists can better predict global energy balances, water cycles and El Niño.

Image Credit: NASA

TRMM satellite

5 Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)

GOES satellite
GOES knows weather. Since 1975, this geostationary squad of satellites (amongst others) are the unsung heroes in forecasting our planet’s weather.
Image Credit: NASA;

6 Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE)

Genius concept. Satellite tag team nicknamed Tom & Jerry constantly chasing one another. Each satellite measures each other’s shifts where gravity pull is stronger on Earth.

READ MORE: GRACE Role in the Geoid
Image Credit: NASA

GRACE satellite

7 Terra

Terra satellite
Part of NASA’S multi-talented A-Train fleet. Capabilities include terrain modeling (ASTER), land cover classification (MODIS) and air quality monitoring (MOPITT).
Image Credit: NASA

8 EnviSAT

Before losing contact in 2012, it was a heavy-lifter in ocean, hydrological, terrain and atmospheric studies. Because of its massive frame (8 tons), it is a candidate to be removed from orbit.
Image Credit: Airbus & Defense/ESA

9 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Satellite (NOAA)

NOAA-19 satellite
NOAA satellites enable us to get a complete views of weather and environmental conditions around the world each day.
Image Credit: NASA

10 Advanced Land Observation Satellite (ALOS)

JAXA’s ALOS World 3D (DAICHI) is the world’s most precise DEM at 5-meter resolution with 5-meter height accuracy. ALOS-2 has several upgrades including its L-band PALSAR radar and stereo mapping (PRISM).
Image Credit: JAXA


Radarsat-2 is Canada’s Arctic monitoring C-band radar from space. Its 3 future satellites part of the Radarsat constellation mission will hone in on managing resources on the Great White North’s land mass.
Image Credit: © Canadian Space Agency

12 PlanetScope (Dove)

Low cost. Low weight. Low Earth. This orchestra of micro satellites (nicknamed doves) orbit the Earth in concert scanning at 3-5 meter resolution images.
Image Credit: Planet
dove satellite


Geostationary observer of meteorology in Europe and Africa. Beams images of Europe’s weather one in every 15 minutes for weather forecasting.
Image Credit: ESA

14 Sentinel

Copernicus Programme’s exciting fleet of 6 missions to understand Earth’s climate. Sentinel-2’s 12 spectral bands and 10-meter true color is a game changer in open data.

READ MORE: How to Download Free Sentinel Satellite Data
Image Credit: ESA

Sentinel satellite

15 Corona

corona satellite
Strategic, James Bond-style military satellite in 1960s that was used to spy on the Soviet Union. Reconnaissance images have become declassified and are now commonly used by archaeologists.
Image Credit: National Reconnaissance Office


A satellite marvel at its time, IKONOS was the first commercial satellite granted a license in America. However, IKONOS-1 never made it to space. IKONOS-2 did and was renamed IKONOS.

READ MORE: IKONOS Satellite Imagery: First Commercial Space-based Imaging
Image courtesy © 2017 DigitalGlobe


17 TerraSAR (TanDEM-X)

German twin satellites that carved out the unrivaled WorldDEM using X-band SAR. TerraSAR is also incredibly useful for surface movement, disaster mitigation and environmental applications.
Image Courtesy of Airbus & Defense

18 Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE)

GOCE specializes in measuring Earth’s gravity field and ocean behavior with unprecedented detail. It accomplishes this feat using a highly sensitive gradiometer and three pairs of accelerometers.
Image Courtesy of ESA/Airbus & Defense
goce satellite

19 Worldview

Worldview satellite
DigitalGlobe’s cutting-edge high resolution satellite that can carve out ridiculously crisp imagery (31 cm) almost being able to decipher license plates.
Image courtesy © 2017 DigitalGlobe

20 Quickbird

The versatile and cost effective QuickBird satellite delivered high-resolution (60 cm) optical imagery seamlessly of the world. In 2015, it was decommissioned.
Image courtesy © 2017 DigitalGlobe)

21 Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS)

SMOS satellite
Coarse passive instrument weighing in on soil moisture and ocean salinity to enhance our knowledge of the land and ocean processes.
Image Credit: ESA

22 ResourceSAT

Original named IRS, ResourceSAT is an Indian polar-synchronous satellite with moderate multi-spectral resolution. It’s also known for ship surveillance with Automatic Identification System payload.
Image credit: ISRO

23 Aqua

Aqua satellite
NASA’s multi-purpose satellite taps into Earth’s water cycle by measuring relative humidity (AIRS/AMSU), cloud height (CERES) and energy flux (AMSR-E). Its polar orbit delivers repeat coverage viewing the entire Earth’s surface every 1 to 2 days.
Image Credit: NASA

24 Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations (CALIPSO)

CALIPSO graphs the vertical profiles of cloud structure using laser technology and a special sensor for cirrus cloud.
Image Credit: NASA

25 China-Brazil Earth Resource Satellite (CBERS)

China and Brazil unite in a joint quintuple mission to monitor everything from agriculture, environment, water pollution and urban planning in their respective countries.
Image Credit: CBERS/INPE

26 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM)

Sculpted SRTM-30 terrain model of Earth using two radar antennas and interferometry. Onboard the space shuttle Endeavour, it only needed 11 days to accomplish this challenging feat.

READ MORE: SRTM Shuttle Radar Topography Mission
Image Credit: NASA

SRTM mission

27 IceSAT

Chilled-out satellite that has made over 904 million measurements of the Earth’s surface using the first space-borne laser altimeter (GLAS) measuring everything from forest heights to ice thickness.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

28 Television Infrared Observation Satellites (TIROS)

1960-era low-Earth orbiting satellite for televising infrared weather observations. It was instrumental in sending early storm warnings.
Image Credit: NASA

29 Joint Altimetry Satellite Oceanography Network (JASON)

jason satellite
Predecessor of TOPEX/Poseidon, JASON’s altimeter is responsible for mapping ocean floor bathymetry and rising sea levels for the Ocean Surface Topography Mission.
Image Credit: NASA

30 CloudSAT

Almost like it has its head in the clouds, this satellite profiles their vertical billowing formation with radar. Because clouds influence weather and climate, this is key to understanding the atmospheric and hydrological cycles.
Image Credit: NASA

31 Aura

Aura satellite
NASA satellite dedicated to uncovering air quality and climate health. 4 instruments (HIRDLS, MLS, OMI & TES) measure trace gases, temperature, and aerosols in the upper atmosphere.
Image Credit: NASA


Also known as Arirang, this multispectral satellite provides 1-meter resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images monitoring North Korean military activities and more.
Image copyright © Korean Aerospace Research Institute KARI

33 Project for On-Board Autonomy (PROBA)

Micro, cube-looking satellite with 30-meter hyperspectral data. Using its dextrous viewing angles, PROBA had produced a world-renowned coarse global vegetation archive.
Image Credit: ESA

34 Earth Observing-1 Mission (EO-1)

Propelled science and innovation through the validation of advanced instrumentation through NASA’s New Millennium Program (NMP). Its Hyperion sensor sees 220 spectral bands of wavelengths for better characterizing minerals and Earth features.

Image Credit: NASA

35 RapidEye

RapidEye originated in Germany. It was bought by BlackBridge and now Planet. Despite several owners, this 5-satellite constellation still provides large swath, high resolution (5-meter) anywhere on Earth, at least daily.

36 Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP)

Paired active and passive sensors to measure fine-scale global soil moisture. Due to a sensor malfunction, it’s all passive similar to SMOS.
Image Credit: NASA

37 Pleiades


2 nimble commercial satellites operating in the same orbit. Pleiades catches incredible detail (2-meter) and can scan the Earth in any direction.

READ MORE: Pleiades Satellite Constellation: Spot the Detail
Image Courtesy of ESA/Airbus & Defense

38 Suomi

Polar-orbiter meteorology satellite known for short-term weather forecasting and its wide range of land, ocean, and atmospheric measurements. It has captured views of monstrous tornadoes and supercells.
Image Credit: Copyright © NOAA

39 CartoSAT

The Indian cartography series of commercial satellites collect land information with multispectral, panchromatic and stereo mapping capabilities.
Image Copyright © ISRO

40 GeoEye

Google’s high-resolution (1.65-meter) imaging satellite is so sharp that ecologists have used it to track animal population. There’s no coincidence that it’s also used in Google Maps.
Image courtesy © 2017 DigitalGlobe

41 Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS)

magnetospheric satellite
This magnetosphere specializing satellite has a unique tetrahedral formation consisting of four identical spacecrafts to map the interaction between the sun and Earth’s magnetic field (magnetic reconnection).
Image Credit: NASA

42 Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC)

DMC masters disaster monitoring with its highly responsive, humanitarian constellation. It consists of AISAT-1, BilSAT, NigeriaSAT, UK-DMC, Beijing-1, Deimos-1 and NigeriaSAT.


43 Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellites (POES)

NOAA’s polar-orbiting meteorological satellite has taken some of the mystery out of atmospheric phenomenons with high spatial and temporal resolution images.
Image Credit: NOAA

44 Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA)

Reigning monarch satellite of Mars. This interplanetary mission orbits the red planet. It has discovered ancient river beds on Martian surface with its elevation data.
Image Credit: NASA
mars global surveyor

45 SciSAT

SciSAT has a nightcrawler orbit creeping in the Earth’s shadows. It records the depletion of the ozone which can’t be captured by balloons, aircrafts or other orbiting satellites.
Image Credit: Canadian Space Agency

46 SeaStar (Orbview-2)

Ocean-surfing Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWIFS) is used by ocean biologists to quantify color change from chlorophyll produced by marine plants.
Image Credit: NASA

47 QuickSCAT

Surfers satellite of choice with its swift scatterometer calculations of surface sea winds and direction over ice-free oceans.
Image Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

48 SkySat

The type of gadget James Bond uses to spy on super-villains.This commercial satellite is capable of capturing video footage and sub-meter multispectral images.
Copyright © SkyBox Imaging. All rights reserved.


The solar-monitoring ACRIMSAT performed experimental studies for Total Solar Irradiance. It recorded a 0.1% reduction in the solar intensity caused by the Venus shadow in 2004.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL

50 Megha-Tropique

This weather satellite’s purpose is to cruise the tropics to better understand the global water cycle and climate change (Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment – GEWEX)
Image Credit: ESA
megha trophique


There are hundreds of remote sensing uses and applications that are being tied into the world we live in.

For example, weather, navigation, gravity, climate change and the magnetosphere are best understood from space.

As each meticulously-planned space mission is launched, we can cover that much more ground.

What Earth observation satellites did we miss?

Let us know with a comment below.


  1. Probably you can add 1 or 2 Soviet / Russian ones. And you have Corona, but not Key Hole or other defense programs?

  2. Which of the many satellites, can show me images like the LiDAR images I found, where they discovered 4400-year-old villages for example?

    Meaning which one is used for land and or water discovering purposes. I like to find something like that too in my or any area, who knows what else is still somewhere hiding beneath my feet. How can I do it anyway, what do I need to find something special, or what about finding treasures of gold and silver or stuff like that, perhaps some caves? Anything would be great to discover and finally, how much is stuff like that to buy such laser measuring devices I mean. Can I afford it if not can I join somebody to be able to use it can I get paid for it maybe? I like to know any and all of this questions if anybody has and can and will respond to me?

  3. Nice list… but there is no ice-cream flying around! The GRACE satellites are called TOM & Jerry 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.