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Seasat was the first Earth-orbiting satellite designed for remote sensing of the Earth's oceans and had on board the first spaceborne synthetic aperture radar (SAR). The mission was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of global satellite monitoring of oceanographic phenomena and to help determine the requirements for an operational ocean remote sensing satellite system. Specific objectives were to collect data on sea-surface winds, sea-surface temperatures, wave heights, internal waves, atmospheric water, sea ice features and ocean topography. Seasat was managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was launched on 27 June 1978 into a nearly circular 800 km orbit with an inclination of 108°. Seasat operated for 106 days until 10 October 1978, when a massive short circuit in the satellite's electrical system ended the mission.

Seasat carried five major instruments designed to return the maximum information from ocean surfaces:

  1. Radar altimeter to measure spacecraft height above the ocean surface
  2. Microwave scatterometer to measure wind speed and direction
  3. Scanning multichannel microwave radiometer to measure sea surface temperature
  4. Visible and infrared radiometer to identify cloud, land and water features
  5. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) L-band, HH polarization, fixed look angle to monitor the global surface wave field and polar sea ice conditions {the antenna is the light parallelogram in the picture}. The SAR support structure was designed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman Astro Aerospace in Carpinteria, CA. The structure deployed on orbit.

Many later remote sensing missions owe their legacy to Seasat. These include imaging radars flown on NASA's Space Shuttle, altimeters on Earth-orbiting satellites such as TOPEX/Poseidon, and scatterometers on NASA Scatterometer (NSCAT), QuikSCAT, and Jason 1.