The recent explosive growth of small satellite operations driven primarily from an academic or pedagogical need, has demonstrated the viability of commercial-off-the-shelf technologies in space. They have also leveraged and shown the need for development of compatible sensors primarily aimed for Earth observation tasks including monitoring terrestrial domains, communications and engineering tests. However, one domain that these platforms have not yet made substantial inroads into, is in the ocean sciences. Remote sensing has long been within the repertoire of tools for oceanographers to study dynamic large scale physical phenomena, such as gyres and fronts, bio-geochemical process transport, primary productivity and process studies in the coastal ocean. We argue that the time has come for micro and nano-satellites (with mass smaller than 100 kg and 2-3 year development times) designed, built, tested and flown by academic departments, for coordinated observations with robotic assets in situ. We do so primarily by surveying SmallSat missions oriented towards ocean observations in the recent past, and in doing so, we update the current knowledge about what is feasible in the rapidly evolving field of platforms and sensors for this domain. We conclude by proposing a set of candidate ocean observing missions with an emphasis on radar-based observations, with a focus on Synthetic Aperture Radar.
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