Progresses in space technology in recent decades have left indelible impacts on human life. For example, communication by cell phone would not be possible without sophisticated Earth-orbiting satellites and the vehicles that launch them into space. Another remarkable achievement of the satellite systems is the initiation of global monitoring of Earth’s environment such as atmospheric temperature and ocean currents. Those satellite observations have been used to improve weather forecast and detect long-term trends of Earth’s climate. While cell phone communications are now operated by private companies on a self-sustained basis, the Earth observing system faces a more uncertain future. The subtle difference between the two stems from the fact that the latter has always been supported and run by major government laboratories. Its continued development will be affected by government funding for space research, which has seen strong ebbs and tides in recent years. Combined with another trend of privatization of space, they hint at an emerging new era for space-based monitoring of the global environment. We shall examine the background of this development and explore the opportunities and challenges that arise from it.