The ATSR instrument is an advanced imaging radiometer designed to measure global sea surface temperature to an accuracy of the order of 0.3C from the ESA's ERS-1 satellite, due to be launched in late 1990. The instrument is designed to achieve a very precise correction for atmospheric effects through the use of carefully selected spectral bands, and a new "along-track" scanning technique. This involves viewing the same geophysical scene at two different angles, hence using two different atmospheric paths, so that the difference in radiative signal from the two scenes is due only to atmospheric effects, which can then be quantitatively estimated. ATSR is also a high performance radiometer, and embodies two important technological features; the first of these is the use of closed-cycle coolers, especially developed for space applications, and which were used to cool the sensitive infrared detectors. The radiometer also incorporates two purpose-designed on-board blackbody calibration targets which will also be described in detail. These two features enable the instrument to meet the stringent requirements of sensitivity and absolute radiometric accuracy demanded by this application. ATSR also incorporates a passive nadir-viewing two-channel microwave sounder. Measurements from this instrument will enable total atmospheric water vapour to be inferred, which will not only lead to improved SST retrievals, but will also considerably improve the atmospheric range correction required by the ERS-1 radar altimeter. ATSR is provided by a consortium of research institutes including the University of Oxford, Department of Atmospheric Oceanic and Planetary Physics, who are primarily responsible for scientific calibration of the instrument; University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory, who are responsible for the development of the blackbodies; the UK Meteorological Office, whose contributions include the focal plane assembly; the French laboratory CRPE, who are responsible for providing the microwave part of ATSR. Some of the industrial development work has been funded by the Department of Trade and Industry. There is also a significant contribution from Australia in the area of digital electronics. The ATSR consortium is co-ordinated and led by the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.