This course will provide an introduction to optical Earth observation - monitoring our planet from satellites, using photography, imaging in various wavelengths, lidar and other optical sensing technologies.

About the course

Earth Observation From Space: The Optical View

A MOOC on the role of optical Earth observation to monitor the living planet


The ESA MOOC 'Earth Observation From Space: The Optical View' was first released in 2016 on the FutureLearn MOOC platform as a complete and highly innovative course which included videos, interactive exercises, tests, links and further reading. The course was run a number of times and introduced diverse new audiences to satellite Earth observation data.

This website provides all of the core videos and text content from the course on an open and continuous basis. The videos can be streamed or downloaded.


The course introduces you to the wide range of applications of satellite Earth observation technology. We will focus in particular on the use of data acquired by satellite sensors which use visible light and near infrared radiation – otherwise known as ‘optical’ Earth observation (EO).


Modern optical sensors can capture both qualitative imagery and quantitative information, by using a range of different wavebands of light. That means the imagery is often in a familiar ‘photographic’ form, showing the Earth from the unique and powerful perspective of space. But it can also contain additional information which helps scientists, researchers and decision-makers to understand more about the natural and man-made processes occurring on Earth.


Optical Earth observation is particularly important for observing the ‘living planet’, as the wavebands of light it uses are also those used in photosynthesis. As the resolution of new satellite sensors increases, we can also use this technology for monitoring our own impact on the Earth and the movements of people around the planet.


Throughout the course, the terms ‘Earth observation’ and ‘remote sensing’ are often used interchangeably. The term ‘remote sensing’ refers to the use of electromagnetic radiation (including visible light), emitted or reflected by the Earth, and specialised instruments on board EO satellites, to collect a range of types of data and imagery, at a local and global scale, as they orbit around the Earth. This course focuses specifically on Earth observation from space, and therefore relates to satellite remote sensing rather than similar forms of remote sensing often conducted from aircraft or sometimes ground-based sensors.


Visit the How to use this course page to learn more about how to get the most out of the course material.



This course has been produced for ESA by Imperative Space, a multi-faceted education and media company which has produced a range of online courses and training materials for clients in several global sectors, including space, environment, science, technology, NGOs and government.


Other MOOCs on Earth observation data produced by Imperative Space have included courses focusing on the role of EO in monitoring our changing climate and environment and monitoring of the Greenland Ice Sheet.







Course developed by Imperative Space for ESA