Since the advent of satellite remote sensing ("earth observation) in the 1960s, this multidisciplinary area has become an important approach to mapping and monitoring our planet. The most important reason for the success of earth observation is its ability to cover huge areas very quickly. One satellite can cover the whole Earth several times each day. In this way earth observation is unique and cannot be substituted by any other technique (like airborne remote sensing and in situ measurements).
Norway started to invest significant resources in research and development for earth observation in the beginning of the 1980's. Today, Norway has an international reputation for earth observation applications covering larger parts of the geophysical system (ocean, land, atmosphere and cryosphere). This success builds in particular on systematic investments by the government (by NTNF, later the Research Council of Norway and the Norwegian Space Centre) in establishing competence and developing techniques for analysing data in this multidisciplinary area.
NR has been a leading research and development institute in remote sensing since Norway started to focus on the area in the beginning of the 1980's. The institute's main role has since the beginning been to perform research and development of methodology for analysis of digital remote sensing data, in particular methodology for semi-automatic and automatic classification, parameter retrieval and object recognition. Information and communication technology (ICT) disciplines, like digital image processing and pattern recognition, have therefore been at the "centre of gravity" of NRs work. The results include all from academic publications through algorithms and methods to software "black boxes", prototype systems and operational systems. NRs staff in remote sensing includes a number of full-time positions and a few part-time positions of university personnel. The total annual turnovers for the remote sensing activities are usually in the range NOK 8-12 million.
The history of remote sensing in NR is documented in more detail in the chapter "Ut i verdensrommet for studere Jorden ("Out in space to study the Earth") in the book "Norsk Regnesentral 1952-2002 (in Norwegian; pp. 269-279) (download).