Kondor to Spacecraft home to Military spacecraft


Roskosmos launches radar-observation satellite

A Soyuz-2 rocket lifted off from Vostochny Cosmodrome on May 27, 2023, carrying the Kondor FKA No. 1 radar satellite. It was the third attempt to orbit an all-weather, day-and-night imaging satellite in this series by the Russian industry after two of its short-lived predecessors were launched for the Russian and South-African militaries in a three-decade-long development effort.


Kondor-FKA No. 1 mission at a glance

Spacecraft mass
1,050 kilograms
Target orbital altitude
518.8 kilometers
Target orbital inclination
97.4 degrees toward the Equator
Radar antenna frequency range
Operational life span
5 years
Launch vehicle
Soyuz-2-1a No. 15000-004/Fregat No. 142-01
Launch site
Launch date and time
2023 May 27, 00:14:51.123 Moscow Time (actual)

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"Civilian" Kondor satellite

The Kondor-E project was a direct descendant of the Soviet Almaz space station, which was designed to carry a powerful imaging radar as one of its primary reconnaissance tools. Before the end of the USSR, the Almaz was first downgraded to a crew-tended configuration for periodic visits by cosmonauts and, later, to a fully robotic satellite. Following the Soviet collapse in 1991, the 20-ton space station-derived spacecraft was quickly proven unaffordable despite some commercialization attempts by its developer NPO Mashinostroenia in Reutov (NPO Mash for short). In the mid-1990s, the company, which continued supplying cruise missiles for the Russian military, scaled down the concept of an orbital radar imager to a light-weight satellite dubbed Kondor. After nearly two decades of stop-and-go effort, the first Kondor, built for the Russian Ministry of Defense, was launched in 2013, followed by an "export" version, Kondor-E, in 2014, funded by the South-African government.

Despite less-then-successful operations for both satellites, their in-orbit performance was impressive enough for Roskosmos to jump on the band wagon, given that all other efforts in Russia to develop a radar-imaging satellite faced serious hurdles, especially, after the introduction of Western sanctions in the wake of the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At the time, Roskosmos requested around $65 million for five years beginning in 2016 for the Kondor-FKA project, where "FKA" stood for the Federal Space Agency. Essentially, the program would fund a civilian version of Kondor-E.

The projected budget for the Kondor-FKA program (in millions, as of 2014):

Russian rubles
US dollars*

*October 2014 exchange rate

The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Emergency Situations, MChS, were expected to be main customers of the satellite's data, according to official publications. In reality, the Russian military was still expected to be the primary beneficiary of the program, however, the satellite was expected to be controlled and operated by Roskosmos. It appears that the Russian Ministry of Defense also funded a Kondor derivative known as Neitron, which was launched in February 2022.

According to Roskosmos publications, the requested funding would procure two spacecraft based on the Kondor-E architecture and equipped with an S-band radar. The initial plans called for both satellites to be launched on Rockot boosters with Briz-KM upper stage from Plesetsk in 2018 and 2019. The satellites would be capable of producing images with a resolution no lower than 1-1.8 meters on individual photos covering an area of 10 by 10 kilometers, when operating in the so-called "spotlight" imaging mode. During continuous imaging along the flight path, Kondor's radar would be able to cover a swath of the Earth's surface 20 by 50 kilometers, revealing objects from three to seven meters in size. In 2023, Roskosmos also reported the capability to image a swath up to 100 by 500 kilometers.

The spacecraft was expected to function in orbit for no less than five years.

In mid-2016, the head of the project at NPO Mash Sergei Zaitsev confirmed that the launch of Kondor-FKA satellites based on the Kondor-E design was expected at the end of 2018 and the end of 2019, respectively. More than 20 subcontractors were also involved in the project. At the time, NPO Mash was in the process of awarding contracts to its system suppliers and formulating hardware and software upgrades which would be implemented in the original design. It was already known that NPO Mash's own experimental plant would manufacture the solar panels, the (radar) antenna guiding mechanism and a number of avionics. The satellite would also be equipped with a brand-new propulsion system.

All service systems of the satellite were placed inside a box-shaped 900 by 1,750-millimeter unpressurized module. The main radar imaging antenna was connected to the front end of the service module. The antenna had an electric pointing mechanism, which allowed it to rotate up to 55 degrees sideways with a speed of two degrees per second in order to image areas on both sides from the flight path.

The service module was also equipped with a pair of rotating solar panels. (1010)

In the second half of the 2010s, the launch of Kondor series was switched from Rockot to the Soyuz/Fregat launcher, since both Rockot and Strela (which launched the two original Kondors), were equipped with Ukrainian flight-control computers. According to the procurement contract for the Soyuz-2-1a rocket issued by Roskosmos on Sept. 25, 2019, the launch vehicle for the Kondor-FKA No. 2 satellite had to be supplied by November 15, 2021.

At the end of 2022, the first Kondor-FKA satellite was promised to be launched in 2023 and the second in 2024. In 2023, Roskosmos promised the launch of two additional satellite in the series in 2029 and 2030. At the same time, NPO Mash also reported the development of the Kondor-FKA-M upgrade, primarily aiming to transition the project to indigenously built avionics and materials, and capable of producing radar images with a resolution of 0.5 meters.

In addition, the company advertised the project of an internally funded satellite called Diamond-X which would be equipped with a phased-array imaging radar.

Imaging modes of the Kondor-FKA satellite (as of 2023):

Imaging mode
Detailed spotlight, DPR
1-2 meters
10 x 10 kilometers
Detailed continuous scan, DNR
2-3 meters
10 x 500 kilometers
Survey averaged, OR
6-12 meters
20-100 x 500 kilometers
Survey at maximum resolution, ORr
Selected resolution from 6-12-meter range
Selected range x 500 kilometers
Survey at maximum swath, ORp
Factual specification
Selected swath from 20-100-kilometer range x 500 kilometers


Kondor-E launch campaign


The Kondor-FKA/Fregat stack is being prepared for integration with the launch vehicle payload fairing.

The Fregat upper stage and the payload fairing for the Kondor-FKA mission were delivered to Vostochny around March 14, 2023.

On March 22, 2023, Roskosmos announced that the Kondor-FKA spacecraft was packed and ready for shipment to the launch site within days. The spacecraft was confirmed arriving at Vostochny's spacecraft processing facility via the Ignatievo airfield near the city of Khabarovsk on March 27, 2023.

Because the integration and rollout of the Soyuz rocket can only be performed horizontally, the Kondor-FKA processing featured a unique setup, which included the encapsulation of the satellite under a payload fairing together with its ground-support lattice adapter originally designed to preserve the structurally vulnerable radar antenna in folded position during ground transportation. The adapter was inherited from the original Kondor project, but it was designed to be removed from the satellite upon its integration with the Strela launcher, because that operation was conducted in vertical position at the rocket's silo facility in Baikonur. Fortunately, the extra payload capacity of the Soyuz/Fregat configuration could accommodate "the dead mass" of the lattice adapter. The complete assembly of the satellite, the adapter and the Fregat separation system was known as the "spacecraft block" or BKA, under the designation 374BL24. During the orbital flight, the adapter was designed to open in flight to enable the separation of the satellite, however the adapter itself would remain attached to Fregat.

The final assembly of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket with the satellite was completed on May 22 and on the same day, the State Commission overseeing the launch cleared the vehicle for rollout to the launch pad. The rocket left the vehicle processing building and arrived at the pad on May 23, 2023.

Kondor-E launch profile


A Soyuz-2-1a/Fregat rocket carrying the Kondor-FKA No. 1 radar satellite lifted off from Pad 1S in Vostochny on May 27, at 00:14:51.123 Moscow Time (4:14 p.m. EDT on May 26).

The four boosters of the first stage separated 1 minute and 59 seconds into the flight, followed by the drop of the payload fairing 3 minutes and 44 seconds after liftoff. The second stage of the rocket operated until 4 minutes and 48 seconds into the flight and separated at L+287.86 seconds. Moments earlier, the RD-0110 engine of the third stage ignited and fired through the lattice structure of the second stage. The main engine of the third stage was cut off as planned at L+527.75 seconds in flight.

Typically for launches to a near-polar orbit, the third stage of the Soyuz-2-1a rocket accelerated the Fregat upper stage and its payload to a near-orbital velocity and left it on a sub-orbital trajectory 8 minutes 51 seconds after liftoff.

Space tug maneuvers

The Fregat was expected to fire its propulsion system for 9 minutes and 51 seconds to enter an elliptical (egg-shaped) orbit with an apogee (highest point) near the target altitude. The stack of the satellite and the upper stage were to coast passively until reaching the apogee, where Fregat was programmed to re-start its engine 57 minutes and 42 seconds after launch.

The maneuver had to form the target orbit for the deployment of the satellite which should take place 1 hour 4 minutes and 51 seconds into the flight.

Following the payload release, the upper stage was expected to perform additional maneuvers to enter a disposal trajectory.

According to radar tracking data from the US Space Force, Kondor-FKA No. 1 entered a 509 by 512-kilometer orbit with an inclination 97.439 degrees toward the Equator and an orbital period of 94.83 minutes.

Kondor-FKA-1 reported operating in orbit

On June 3, 2023, a Russian industry publication claimed that specialists from the Vega organization and NPO Mash had started operation of the Kondor-FKA satellite.

Beginning on Sept. 3, 2023, Kondor-FKA performed several orbit corrections. In particular, the maneuver on Oct. 11, 2023, for the first time slightly changed the orbital inclination of the satellite from 97.4328 to 97.4426 degrees toward the Equator.

On Nov. 13, 2023, TASS quoted Valery Zaichko, Deputy Director of the Automated Space Department at Roskosmos, as promising to complete flight tests and begin operational use of the first Kondor-FKA satellite on Jan. 1, 2024. However, at the end of January 2024, head of NPO Mash Aleksei Leonov told TASS that the flight testing of Kondor-FKA-1 had still been in final stages and that it would be completed in the "near future." At the same time, the launch of the second Kondor-FKA was slated during the second quarter of 2024, while third and fourth satellite in the series were under construction, but Leonov did mentioned their planned launch dates.

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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: January 26, 2024

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Edit: May 29, 2023

All rights reserved

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Kondor-FKA No. 1 is being being prepared for integration with the Fregat upper stage. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Kondor-FKA No. 1 is being being prepared for integration with the Fregat upper stage. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Kondor-FKA No. 1 is being encapsulated under its payload fairing in May 2023. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The upper composite including the third stage, payload fairing, Fregat upper stage and Kondor-FKA No. 1 satellite is moved for integration with booster stages of the Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle with the Kondor-FKA No. 1 satellite arrives at the launch pad in Vostochny. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos


The Soyuz-2-1a launch vehicle with the Kondor-FKA No. 1 satellite lifts off from Vostochny on May 27, 2023. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos



Four boosters of the first stage separated at L+118.94 seconds. Credit: Roskosmos



Onboard cameras captured separation of two halves of the payload fairing, which took place at L+223.54 seconds. Credit: Roskosmos



Tail sections of the third stage separated at L+293.45 seconds, moments after separation of the second stage. Credit: Roskosmos


The Fregat upper stage with the Kondor-FKA No. 1 satellite separates from the third stage of the launch vehicle as seen by a camera aboard the third stage at L+535.16 seconds in flight. Credit: Roskosmos



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