Kondor-E (Kondor-Experimental SAR Spacecraft)
Background: The Russian enterprise NPO Mashinostroyenia (NPO Machine-builder, or simply NPOMash), headquartered in the Moscow suburban town of Reutov, has been engaged in the field of remote sensing and space exploration since the start of the space age. The Almaz-1 spacecraft (launch March 31, 1991) with its provision of SAR instrumentation and data was a major engagement and experience in this direction.
With the drastically changed economic situation in Russia during the past decade, the company began to re-orient its market strategies and is working for some time now on modern service solutions and projects by utilizing a small/medium sized spacecraft family (up to 1000 kg), combined with new-technology instruments, operational concepts, and a low-cost launch option. The overall objective is to offer high-resolution imagery (SAR imagery and eventually also optical imagery) on a commercial basis to worldwide customers as well as to institutional users in Russia for a variety of applications. From a service provider commitment and view point, the Kondor project offers a long-term and pragmatic perspective to the customer base.
The idea is to overcome the large-spacecraft philosophy/practice of the past, exemplified by the Salyut spacecraft of Almaz-1 and Almaz-1B, each with launch mass of over 18,500 kg. If Almaz-1B was going to be launched by a Proton heavy-lift launch vehicle today, such a payload would amount to launch costs of $60-80 million, making any low-cost project unprofitable. Hence, the project Almaz-1B, a planned follow-up mission to Almaz-1 for a long period of time, was finally cancelled in favor of the new concept of Kondor-E; it represents a first step into the light-weight and small-size direction. 1) 2) 3)
NPO Mash received an order from the Russian military for both radar and optical-imaging versions of this satellite in 1997; however, by the end of the decade funding had been cut, and NPO Mash looked to develop the satellites for the export market instead. This project became known as the Kondor-E. Funding for the military Kondor satellite was later restored.
The Kondor-E spacecraft (also spelled as Condor-E) employs a standardized bus, the spacecraft is three-axis stabilized. Attitude sensing is provided by a gyroscope and star senors, actuation is provided by reaction wheels and torquers. The pointing accuracy of the spacecraft is equal to or less than 6 arcmin with an angular drift of <0.001º/s. On-board orbit determination is provided by a GLONASS/GPS receiver.
The satellite is equipped with two deployable solar arrays that are mounted on a central body that also holds the radar antenna array. The two solar panels have a total surface area of 9.2m2.The payload power consumption is in the range of 240-1500 W, depending on service provided. In addition there are batteries for power provision during orbital eclipse phases. Kondor-E1 has a spacecraft total mass of 1150 kg (350 kg of payload mass); the design life is 5 years with a goal of 7 years.
RF data handling and communications: The instrument source data rate is up to 960 Mbit/s. On-board data compression is provided prior to data recording onto a 192 Gbit solid-state recorder. Downlink communications are in X-band. The data rate is 61 Mbit/s to regional data centers, and up to 350 Mbit/s to the central data center, located at NPOMachinostroyenia. The functions of spacecraft operations and data distribution are also performed at NPO Machinostroyenia.
This file will be updated whenever new information of the spacecraft, its payload and its mission status becomes available.
Launch: The Kondor-E1 reconnaissance radar satellite(Kosmos-2487, International code: 2013-032A) was launched on June 27, 2013 (16:53 UTC) on a Strela vehicle (formerly known as SS-19) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan (silo launch). 5) 6)
Orbit: Sun-synchronous polar or inclined circular orbit (final orbit selection at a later date), altitude = 500 km, inclination = 74.75º. The revisit time capability is 2-3 days.
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• On July 2, 2013, industry sources reported that Kondor-E had successfully deployed its imaging radar antenna. However, the satellite was yet to go through a series of tests before transmitting its first images (Ref. 1).
• Shortly after launch, western radars detected the spacecraft in an orbit of 464 km x 552 km with an inclination of 74.9º. Within 24 hours, radar data corrected the orbital altitude to 499 km x 521 km and the orbital inclination to 74.74º, essentially matching the parameters of the planned orbit leaked before launch.
Sensor complement: (SAR-10)
SAR-10 (Synthetic Aperture Radar-10)
SAR-10 was designed and developed at NPO Vega of Moscow. SAR-10 is an S-band instrument with a wavelength of 9.6 cm (or a frequency of 3.13 GHz). The overall SAR design concept employs a space-deployed parabolic dish antenna to save weight and to permit a cross-track pointing capability (a similar antenna has already been successfully tested onboard the MIR station).Unlike a phased-array antenna with a one-sided viewing capability from the spacecraft, the parabolic dish antenna design permits the observing equipment to be dynamically redirected in the cross-track direction. Thus, a Field of Regard (FOR) within the incidence-angle range of 20-55º on either side of the spacecraftmay be observed. This concept is also employed on the US DoD Lacrosse satellite series.
Within the FOR, the payload can image a ground swath of about 15 km. In spotlight mode, the payload can achieve a resolution of 1-2 m, in stripmap mode it can provide images with a resolution of 1-3 m, and in ScanSAR mode, the satellite will cover a greater swath on the ground with resolutions of 5-30 m. Interferometric data can be provided on successive orbits.
Table 1: Main characteristics of the SAR-10 instrument
Figure 2: Photo of the SAR antenna deployment test (image credit: NPOMash)
Figure 3: Illustration of the narrow-swath (spotlight mode) configuration in a FOR of 500 km (image credit: NPOMash)
Figure 4: Illustration of the narrow-swath (stripmap mode) configuration in a FOR of 500 km (image credit: NPOMash)
2) V. Viter, V. Petrovsky, A. Koutcheiko, “Space-based radars designed by NPO Machinostroyenia, Novosti Kosmonnavtiki (Cosmic News), Vol 218, No 3 (218), Jan. 31, 2001, Vol. 11
3) V. Viter, “NPO Machinostroyenia - Advanced technology, reasonable economic policy and addressing practical problems of developing countries,” Russian Air Force, Aircraft & Space Review, No 17, June 2000, pp. 58-59
4) “Condor-E Small Spacecraft with a synthetic aperture radar,” URL: http://www.npomash.ru/activities/images/radio_en.pdf
5) “Kondor radar imaging satellite reaches target orbit,” Space Daily, July 8, 2013, URL: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Kondor_radar_imaging_satellite_reaches_target_orbit_999.html
6) Patrick Blau, “20 Years in the Making - First Russian Kondor Satellite launched via Strela,” Spaceflight 101, June 27, 2013, URL: http://www.spaceflight101.com/first-kondor-launch-atop-strela-2013.html
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates.