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Global ecosystem observations are important for Earth-system studies. The National Research Council's report entitled Earth Science and Applications from Space is currently guiding NASA's Earth science missions. It calls for a global land and coastal area mapping mission. The mission, scheduled to launch in the 2013-2016 timeframe, includes a hyperspectral imager and a multi-spectral thermal-infrared sensor. These instruments will enable scientists to characterize global species composition and monitor the response of ecosystems to disturbance events such as drought, flooding, and volcanic events. Due to the nature and resolution of the sensors, these two instruments produce approximately 645 GB of raw data each day, thus pushing the limits of conventional data handling and telecommunications capabilities. The implications of and solutions to the challenge of high downlink data volume were examined. Low risk and high science return were key design values. The advantages of onboard processing and advanced telecommunications methods were evaluated. This paper will present an end-to-end data handling system design that will handle the large data downlink volumes that are becoming increasingly prevalent as the complexity of Earth science increases. The designs presented here are the work of the authors and may differ from the current mission baseline.