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Kondor FKA No. 1: Russia’s New Surveillance Satellite Takes Flight amid Geopolitical Tensions

In recent days, the Russian Federation has launched Kondor FKA No. 1, a novel surveillance satellite equipped with a synthetic aperture radar (SAR). As per Russian media reports, the device was successfully deployed to an orbit approximately 520 km above the Earth, with its optimal operation subsequently confirmed. The operational lifespan of this new Russian satellite is projected to be five years.

There has been a flurry of orbital activities across the globe in the past few days. In the US, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the Arabsat 7B satellite, while South Korea celebrated another Nuri launch. Russia undertook two launches, one of which included the deployment of the Kondor FKA No. 1 via the Soyuz 2.1a launch system (supplemented by an additional Fregat upper stage M). The mission objective was to position the SAR-equipped satellite in an orbit inclined at 97° and hovering around 520 km above Earth. The launch was conducted from Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome, situated in the eastern part of the country.

As per information divulged to the media by Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, the Kondor FKA device is designed to deliver high and medium-resolution radar data in the S-band (frequency 2 to 4 GHz) to facilitate the socio-economic development of Russia. It promises round-the-clock Earth surface imaging, inclusive of the Russian Arctic, regardless of meteorological conditions. However, SAR technology has dual-use potential, extending to military applications, as exemplified by Russia’s ongoing military operations in Ukraine. Consequently, the current international scenario suggests that the device may be geared towards providing intelligence support to the Russian army.

Based on available information, the launch of the second Kondor-FKA satellite is planned for next year. The original launch timetable for both units was set for 2018-2019, but the first satellite’s launch was delayed by five years. Future iterations of this system are expected to enter orbit between 2029 and 2030. There are reports that an upgraded version, the Kondor-FKA-M (featuring a radar with a resolution of up to 0.5 m), is currently under development, with a targeted launch date around 2030. It’s worth noting that the inaugural Kondor series satellite was launched in 2013, but was deemed non-operational two years later, followed by its deorbiting a few years subsequently.

The launch outlined here marks Russia’s 8th orbital launch this calendar year and the 5th to utilise the Soyuz2.1a rocket. The sanctions levied in 2014 and more recently have considerably impacted the capabilities of Russia’s space sector, leading to slowed development, as reflected in the reduced number of launch system flights. Amid Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, the country is augmenting its military capabilities, using space as a domain, and this new medium-resolution device could potentially provide support in this conflict.

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