First Ocean-Watching Radar Satellite

Thirty-five years ago today — June 27, 1978 — an Atlas-Agena launch vehicle out of Vandenberg AFB carried the SeaSat-1 observation satellite to orbit.

(SeaSat 1. NASA image.)

SeaSat 1, also known as the Ocean Dynamics Satellite, was “designed to provide measurements of sea-surface winds, sea-surface temperatures, wave heights, internal waves, atmospheric liquid water content, sea ice features, ocean features, ocean topography, and the marine geoid.”

SeaSat 1 was the first synthetic aperture radar satellite designed to monitor the oceans from space, but unfortunately a “massive short circuit in its electrical system” in October 1978 cut the mission short. Nevertheless, SeaSat 1 “returned a unique and extensive set of observations of the earth’s oceans” and, according to this mission page, also demonstrated “the feasibility of global satellite monitoring of oceanographic phenomena and [helped] determine the requirements for an operational ocean remote sensing satellite system.”

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