Six candidate Earth Explorer (satellite) missions were undergoing phase A industrial studies and science consolidation from 2002 to early 2004. They included 3 'Core' missions (EarthCARE, SPECTRA and WALES) and 3 'Opportunity' missions (ACE+, EGPM, SWARM). Three of the candidate missions carry microwave payloads for atmospheric sensing. In April 2004, a selection workshop was held, and recommendations for implementation (phases B, C, D) were made by the Earth Sciences Advisory Committee (ESAC) and an implementation decision was taken by the Programme Board on Earth Observation (PB-EO) in May. SWARM, a magnetometry mission, was selected for full implementation as a 5th Explorer mission. The decision for the 6th Explorer mission was postponed to Nov. 2004 between EarthCARE and SPECTRA candidates, pending on the confirmation by JAXA on its contribution to EarthCARE and a re-examination by ESA. EGPM was recommended for implementation under the GMES, a new ESA programme of operational missions. In this paper, EarthCARE and EGPM are described with a particular emphasis on the microwave payloads.