Advancing remote sensing into the future to serve the expanding needs of the scientific community requires enhancing current capabilities of space-borne sensors and sustaining ocean color observations for diverse applications. In this study, an extensive set of experimental and space-borne measurements is analyzed for describing the operating characteristics of a global multidisciplinary ocean color sensor. Essential requirements for a successful mission include sensor characterization, high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and dynamic range, sensor stability, minimal polarization sensitivity, on-orbit calibration, vicarious calibration, atmospheric and in-water algorithms, product validation, and widely distributed regional and global products. To achieve high-quality products, an in-depth analysis of some key design aspects is provided which include spectral band sets, radiance levels, SNR, and dynamic range. These are essential characteristics of satellite sensors for measuring atmospheric signal in both ocean color and aerosol bands without saturation yet allowing high sensitivity measurements of water-leaving radiances and enabling ocean color measurements in aerosol and sun-glint contaminated regions of the ocean. Provisions to meet other requirements for improving retrievals of chlorophyll and phycocyanin fluorescence, partitioning algal and nonalgal color signals, and for implementing new approaches in atmospheric correction are further discussed. With these new capabilities and key design features, it will become feasible to resolve ocean color signals under most environmental circumstances and answer science questions related to changing conditions in the coastal and marine ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles due to climate change. © 2008-2012 IEEE.