SMMR, SSM/I, and SSMIS Sensors

Launched on 25 October 1978 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, the Nimbus-7 spacecraft was the last in a series of operational weather satellites operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Nimbus-7 carried the Scanning Multi-channel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) sensor, which allowed for a number of experiments related to pollution control, oceanography, and meteorology. 

Beginning in 1987, a series of Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites carried two subsequent sensors, the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) and the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS). Measurements from these sensors provide global visible, infrared, and passive microwave data as well as other specialized meteorological, oceanographic, and solar-geophysical data in support of worldwide Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Commerce (DoC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) operations. 

Description of Sensors used in NSIDC Data Sets

Scanning Multi-channel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR)
SMMR was a ten-channel sensor that measured orthogonally polarized antenna temperature data in five microwave frequencies: 6.6, 10.7, 18.0, 21.0, and 37.0 GHz.

Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I)
The SSM/I sensor was a seven-channel, four-frequency, orthogonally polarized, passive microwave radiometric system that measured atmospheric, ocean, and terrain microwave brightness temperatures at 19.35, 22.2, 37.0, and 85.5 GHz.

Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS)
SSMIS is a 24-channel, passive microwave radiometer designed to obtain a variety of polarized atmospheric temperature, moisture, and land variables under most weather conditions. Channel frequencies range from 19 GHz to 183 GHz. Note that the 85.5 GHz channel on SSM/I was replaced with a 91.655 GHz channel on SSMIS. 

Table 1 provides an overview of the SMMR, SSM/I, and SSMIS sensors and their associated satellites. For more information, see the Resources and References sections of this page.

Table 1. Overview of SMMR, SSM/I, and SSMIS Sensors and Satellites
Satellite* Microwave Imagery

Sensor Frequencies (GHz)

Temporal Coverage
Ascending Equator
Crossing Time
(Local Time)

Descending Equator
Crossing Time
(Local Time)
Approximate Swath Width
for Microwave Imagery
Launch Date
DMSP-F18 SSMIS 19, 22, 37, 91 2010/01/29 -present 18:03 07:08 1700 km 2009/10/18
DMSP-F17 SSMIS 19, 22, 37, 91 2006/11/04 - present  18:33 06:20 1700 km 2006/11/04
DMSP-F16 SSMIS 19, 22, 37, 91 2005/11/04 - present 15:52 03:52 1700 km 2003/10/18
DMSP-F15 SSMIS 19, 22, 37, 91 2000/01/24 - present 14:50 02:47 1500 km 1999/12/12
DMSP-F13 SSM/I 19, 22, 37, 85 1995/05/03 - 2008/12/31 17:43 05:51 1400 km 1995/03/24
DMSP-F11 SSM/I 19, 22, 37, 85 1991/12/03 - 1995/09/30 18:25 05:00 1400 km 1991/11/28
DMSP-F10 SSM/I 19, 22, 37, 85 1992/03/09 - 1997/11/04 22:08** 07:30** 1400 km 1990/12/01
DMSP-F8 SSM/I 19, 22, 37, 85 1987/09/07 - 1991/12/30 06:17 06:10 1400 km 1987/06/18
Nimbus-7 SMMR 6, 10, 18, 21, 37 1978/10/25 - 1987/08/20 12:00 12:00 783 km 1978/10/24

*All satellites are in a near-circular, sun-synchronous, polar orbit. 
**Due to the DMSP-F10 satellite not achieving its desired orbit, the equator crossing time increased by approximately 45 minutes per year; as of 1995/09/02, the local equator crossing times were 22:08 (ascending) and 07:30 (descending). 


For more details regarding the satellites and sensors listed in Table 1, refer to the following resources: 


For further reading, consult the following references: 

Amlien, Jostein. 2008. Remote Sensing of Snow with Passive Microwave Radiometers: A Review of Current Algorithms. Report No 1019. Norsk Regnesentral: Oslo, Norway.

Bell, W. 2006. A Preprocessor for SSMIS Radiances Scientific Description. NWPSAF-MO-UD-014, Version 1.0. Met Office, United Kingdom: EUMETSAT.

Bommarito, J. J. 1993. DMSP Special Sensor Microwave Imager Sounder (SSMIS). Proceedings of SPIE. 1935, 230 (1993). doi:10.1117/12.152601.

Boucher, D., G. Poe, et al. 2005. Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Special Sensor Microwave Imager Sounder (F-16) Calibration/Validation. Final Report, November 2005.

Deblonde, G. 2001. Stand-Alone 1D-Var Scheme for the SSM/I, SSMIS and AMSU. Meteorological Service of Canada. NWPSAF-MO-UD-001 Version 1.0.

Delaney, T. 2007. "Northrop Grumman Successfully Checks Out Sensors on New Air Force Weather Satellite." Northrop Grumman. [February 2009].Dubach L., and C. Ng. 1988. NSSDC's Compendium of Meteorological Space Programs, Satellites, and Experiments, March 1988.

Gloersen, P. and F. T. Barath. 1977. A Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer for Nimbus-G and SeaSat-A. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering 2:172-178.

Gloersen, P., W. J. Campbell, D. J. Cavalieri, J. C. Comiso, C. L. Parkinson, and H. J. Zwally. 1992. Arctic and Antarctic Sea Ice, 1978-1987: Satellite Passive-Microwave Observations and Analysis. National Aeronautics and Space Administration Scientific and Technical Information Program. Washington, D.C. USA.

Gloersen, P and L. Hardis. 1978The Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR) experiment. The Nimbus 7 Users' Guide. C. R. Madrid, editor. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland.

Hollinger, J.P., J. L. Peirce, and G. A. Poe. 1990. SSM/I Instrument Evaluation. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens., Vol. 28, No. 5, pp. 781–790, Sep. 1990.

Kramer, H. J. 2002. Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors, 4th Edition, Springer-Verlag, ISBN: 3540423885, May 2002.

Kunkee, D. B., G. A. Poe, D. J. Boucher, S. D. Swadley, Y. Hong, J. E. Wessel, and E. A. Uliana. 2008. Design and Evaluation of the First Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder. IEEE Trans. Geosci. Remote Sens. 46, no. 4: 863–883.

Kunkee, D. B. and K. St. Germain. 2008. Foreword to the Special Issue on the DMSP SSMIS. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing. 46 (4, 1): 859-861. doi: 10.1109/TGRS.2008.919866.

Northrop Grumman. 2002. Algorithm and Data User Manual (ADUM) for the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS). Report 12621. Northrop Grumman Corporation: Space Systems Division. Azusa, California.

Poe, G., K. St. Germain, J. Bobak, et al. 2001. DMSP Calibration/Validation Plan for the Special Sensor Microwave Imager Sounder (SSMIS). Naval Research Laboratory: Washington, DC, USA. 2001.

Sun, N. and F. Weng. 2008. Evaluation of Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS) Environmental Data Records. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing. 46, no. 4.

Sweetman, B. 2006. Jane's Space Directory 2006/2007, Jane's Information Group, ISBN: 071062767X, June 2006.

Strom, S. R. and G. Iwanaga. 2005. "Overview and History of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program," Crosslink, The Aerospace Corporation magazine of advances in aerospace technology, Vol. 6, No 1, 2005.

Yan, B. and F. Weng. 2009. Assessments of F16 Special Sensor Microwave Imager and Sounder Antenna Temperatures at Lower Atmospheric Sounding Channels. Advances in Meteorology. 2009, Article ID 420985, 18 pages. doi:10.1155/2009/420985.

Yan, B. and F. Weng. 2008. Intercalibration Between Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder and Special Sensor Microwave Imager. IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing. 46 (4, 1): 984-995.

Yan, B., F. Weng, N. Sun, and H. Xu. 2006. Assessments of F16 Special Sensor Microwave Imager and Sounder Data for NOAA Operational Applications. In Proceedings of the 9th Specialist Meeting on Microwave Radiometry and Remote Sensing Applications (MicroRad '06), San Juan, Puerto Rico, February-March 2006: 18-23.

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Document Creation Date
September 2018