At 21:14 UTC on May 26, a Soyuz 2.1a rocket launched from Site 1S at Vostochny Cosmodrome in Russia. Onboard the Soyuz was the Kondor-FKA n°1 satellite, which was lofted to a Sun-synchronous orbit. The Kondor satellites are a series of Earth observation satellites that provide reconnaissance services for the Russian military.
The Kondor family of satellites is a series of Earth-imaging and military reconnaissance satellites developed by NPO Mashinostroyeniya. Kondor satellites that are used for military purposes are simply designated “Kondor,” while exported versions of the satellite are designated “Kondor-E.”
The Kondor satellites feature an S-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which can conduct both continuous swath surveys and detailed spot surveys of Earth’s surface. The width of the SAR’s swath is 10 kilometers with a ground resolution of one to two meters in spotlight mode, one to three meters in stripmap mode, and five to 30 meters while in ScanSAR mode.
The first Kondor satellite was launched in June 2013 aboard a Strela rocket — a rocket converted from a UR-100N-UTTKh intercontinental ballistic missile. Designated “Kosmos 2487” after launch, it was the first radar imaging satellite to be operated by the Russian military after the Soviet RORSAT and Almaz-T series’ of satellites. The first Kondor-E satellite was launched in Dec. 2014 for South Africa.
Soyuz 2.1a Rocket
The Soyuz 2.1a rocket is one of three active variants in the Soyuz family of rockets. The 2.1a is similar to the design of early Soyuz rockets, utilizing four liquid-fueled boosters surrounding a central core. This design is also used on the Soyuz 2.1b variant but is not used on the Soyuz-2.1v, which doesn’t use the four side boosters and instead uses a single core.
First introduced in 1996 and derived from the Vostok rocket, the Soyuz rocket initially had a poor launch record, with the first four flights ending in failure. The first successful flight of the Soyuz rocket occurred on Nov. 28, 1966, with the launch of the first Soyuz spacecraft.
The first launch was planned to be an “all-up” test of the Soyuz spacecraft, including a docking to a lunar variant of the Soyuz spacecraft. The docking never occurred, as the spacecraft was destroyed in an explosion on the launch pad after its launch was delayed.
Friday’s launch made use of the Fregat upper stage. Plans to redesign the Soyuz rocket with this new stage were introduced in the 1990s and were based on the propulsion module of the Phobos interplanetary probes. Despite being endorsed by Roscosmos, the Russian state space agency, and the Russian Ministry of Defense, a lack of funds prevented the plans from being implemented.
The eventual founding of Starsem, a company that markets Soyuz launches internationally, allowed for the creation of a less ambitious rocket, the Soyuz-U/Fregat, also known as Soyuz-Fregat. The Soyuz-U/Fregat consisted of a Fregat upper stage that is used on the already-existing Soyuz-U launcher, allowing the rocket to carry 1,350 kilograms to a geostationary transfer orbit.
Friday’s launch lifted off from Site 1S at Vostochny Cosmodrome. The Vostochny Cosmodrome is one of three active cosmodromes used by Roscosmos and the Russian military. The other two cosmodromes currently in use are the Baikonur Cosmodrome — located in Kazakhstan — and the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, located in the far western region of Russia.
Founded in 2011, Vostochny is the newest cosmodrome and was built to replace the Svobodny Cosmodrome. Vostochny hosts two launch pads, Site 1S, which is used for Soyuz launches, and Site 1A, which is currently under construction and planned to host launches of the Angara rocket.
The first launch from Vostochny occurred in April 2016, when a Soyuz 2.1a rocket launched the Mikhailo Lomonosov Gamma-ray astronomy satellite. Since then, Vostochny has seen over 10 successful launches, some of which included OneWeb internet satellites.
(Lead image: a Soyuz 2.1a launches from Site 1S at the Vostochny Cosmodrome with the Kondor-FKA n°1 satellite. Credit: Roscosmos)