Russia is set to launch a top secret spy satellite for South Africa’s defence department, the DA claimed on Wednesday.
The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) had announced that a Kondor-E “earth observation satellite” would be launched on Thursday (December 18) from its Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier said in a statement.
“We cannot be sure, but the Kondor-E satellite, which will be launched at 6.55pm SA time, may be defence intelligence’s secret Russian Kondor-E ‘spy satellite’, developed under ‘Project Flute’.”
Maynier said the satellite reportedly arrived at the cosmodrome on December 1 “for pre-launch processing”.
Since then, it had been tested, loaded with propellant and transferred to site for final preparations.
Maynier said Project Flute was a secret R1.4 billion defence intelligence contract with Russian company NPO Mashinostroyenia — signed on May 19, 2006 — to develop a Kondor-E radar imaging satellite. The contract number was 710/303/060001.
He said that while all the facts about Project Flute were not available, it was aimed at developing “a synthetic aperture radar satellite, called the Kondor-E, capable of seeing at night and through cloud cover, for defence intelligence”.
The cost was about R1.4bn.
Maynier said Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula “has refused point blank to reply to any questions about ‘Project Flute’ in Parliament”.
She had also warned off those asking questions.
“What the minister has done is issue veiled threats to those of us asking hard questions about Project Flute,” claimed Maynier.
However, Defence Secretary Sam Gulube had conceded at a meeting of Parliament’s defence portfolio committee, on October 22 this year, that a contract for a “military satellite” existed, and that the contract was “on track”.
The defence department was not immediately available for comment.
The news site www.russianspaceweb.com carries a report on the Kondor-E, including what it calls the project’s “murky history”.
Under the headline “Russia to orbit South-Africa’s first spy satellite”, it claims that South African defence intelligence “planned to use the satellite for various surveillance goals, including battlefield reconnaissance”.
It confirms that the satellite would be capable of providing all-weather, day-and-night radar imagery for the military.
The report further speculates on the location of a possible ground station to monitor the satellite.
“It is still unclear where exactly the ground station for Kondor-E was located in South Africa, or even whether it had ever been built.”
It says the two best “candidate sites” are the SA National Space Agency’s Hartesbeeshoek facility, or the Overberg Test Range near Arniston, operated by Denel.