December 19, 2014
RS-18 rocket was launched out of a rocket silo at Site 175/59 at the Baikonur
A Russian RS-18 rocket was launched out of a rocket silo at Site 175/59 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:43 UTC (7 hours 43 minutes Moscow time) on Friday, embarking on its third overall mission since being inaugurated in 2003, carrying a Kondor-E radar satellite into orbit for operation by South African Defence & Intelligence Agencies. The launch came after a one-day delay as technical problems kept Kondor-E on the ground on Thursday, set to deliver high resolution radar imagery for a variety of applications.
Confirmation of a successful orbital insertion was provided by the Russian Space Agency several hours after liftoff and orbital tracking has shown Kondor-E in the expected orbit.
RS-18 rocket carrying a Kondor-E radar satellite, trail in the sky
20 years in the making, the Kondor program saw its first launch in 2013 when the first satellite was orbited for operation by the Russian military. Manufactured by NPO Mash, the Kondor satellites can carry optical imaging instruments or radar payloads for use by Russian operators or by foreign agencies under the Kondor-E designation.
Kondor-E 1 radar satellite
South Africa procured the first Kondor-E satellite in 2006 under a top secret program codenamed Flute. Delays in the launch of the first Kondor satellite also pushed the launch of the first export version and even after the first Kondor spread its wings, the launch of the second satellite encountered several launch delays from late 2013 into 2014 end eventually to December. Despite criticism claiming that there was no need for the operation of a radar satellite by South Africa, the government pressed on with the project that reportedly consumed $120 million of funding in the past eight years.
The road to launch was relatively bumpy as conflicts on operational requirements emerged from the South African side, not agreeing to NPO Mash being the operator of the satellite with South Africa’s role reduced to issuing imaging requests and receiving imagery at the discretion of NPO Mash.
ROSCOSMOS Press Release: http://www.federalspace.ru/21206/
Images, Text, Credits: Press Service of the Russian Federal Space Agency/NPO Mash/Orbiter.ch Aerospace.