A remote sensing satellite system consists of four major components, each of which is critical to producing useful data:
- The Spacecraft, Sensors, and Transmitters. The spacecraft provides a stabilized platform and power for the sensors and their optics, the receiving and transmitting antennas, and the associated electronics necessary to control the spacecraft and to deliver data to Earth. Some remote sensing spacecraft may also carry digital storage devices to store data until the spacecraft is within sight of a receiving station.
- The Receiving Station and Other Communications Components. A ground station may receive data in digital form directly from the satellite as it passes overhead, or, if the satellite is not in a position to communicate with the ground station, through a system where data are passed from the remote sensing satellite to a communication satellite in geosynchronous orbit and then retransmitted to a ground facility. From the ground facility, the data are then passed directly to a processing laboratory.
- The Data Processing Facilities. Before the raw data can be converted into photographic images or digital storage devices capable of being analyzed by the end user, they must be processed to remove geometric and other distortions inevitably introduced by the sensors.
- Interpretation of the Data. After the raw data are processed and converted to photographs or digital storage devices, they must be interpreted. Part of the interpretation process may invoke merging or integrating other data either directly on the digital storage device, or comparing such data with photographs. A variety of advanced techniques are available to turn remotely sensed data into new products for different users.