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Flight over Korolev Crater on Mars

03 Jul 2020 | Source: German Aerospace Centre (DLR)

This video shows a simulated flight over Korolev Crater. The 82-kilometre-wide impact crater is filled with water ice all year round. It is located in the northern lowlands of Mars, near the permanent ice cap at the planet's North Pole. The video was produced using images acquired by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), from which a three-dimensional digital terrain model of the region was computed. HRSC has been mapping the Red Planet since 2004 as part of ESA’s Mars Express mission. HRSC was developed and is operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR).

The Korolev impact crater is located south of the large dune field Olympia Undae, which surrounds part of the northern polar ice cap. The interior of the two-kilometre-deep crater is permanently covered by an ice field that has a maximum thickness of 1800 metres. This deposit forms an extensive reservoir of non-polar ice on Mars, the volume of which is estimated to be approximately 2200 cubic kilometres. The crater rim is covered by a thin layer of frost, which stands out clearly from the otherwise reddish-coloured Martian surface. During winter in the northern hemisphere of Mars, the polar region is also widely covered by a thin layer of carbon dioxide ice, which precipitates onto the surface from the Martian atmosphere like snow and only sublimates again with the rising temperatures of spring.

Permanent presence of ice

Water ice is permanently stable in Korolev Crater because the depression is a natural cold trap. The atmosphere above the ice cools down and is therefore heavier than its warmer surroundings. Since the atmosphere is a poor conductor of heat, it shields the ice like a natural insulator. As it lies motionless over the ice, there is little warming of the ice through heat exchange, and the cold atmosphere thus protects the ice deposit from warming and sublimation.

The namesake – 'Chief Designer' of Russian space technology

Korolev Crater is named after Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (1907-1966), the 'Chief Designer' and father of Russian space technology. He developed the first Russian intercontinental ballistic missile, the R7, which is the predecessor of the modern Soyuz launch vehicles still in use today. With his designs for rockets and spacecraft, Korolev launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957 and enabled Yuri Gagarin's flight to space, the first crewed spaceflight, in 1961. The launchers with which Soviet research missions to the Moon, Venus and Mars were carried into space were also based on Korolev's designs.

Until his death on 14 January 1966, Korolev and his engineers worked on an even more powerful launch vehicle that would have enabled Russian cosmonauts to journey to the Moon. Like the plans for the first expeditions into space, these activities were subject to the greatest secrecy in the Soviet Union. The national population and the rest of the world were not aware of the identity of person behind the title of 'Chief Designer' and the great successes of the USSR in the early years of space travel.

Until the success of the first Moon landing by Apollo 11 and its crew of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, there was uncertainty in the USA as to whether the Soviet Union had been able to maintain its initial lead in the space race and if it might soon be able to fly cosmonauts to the Moon. This is evident in numerous documents subsequently made available by NASA. At the time, the USA had only scarce espionage information. Korolev's opposite number at NASA, Wernher von Braun, formerly a leading engineer during the German development of military rockets – who moved to the USA with numerous other engineers at the end of the war – urged rapid development of the US Saturn V launcher.

It was only after the death of Korolev that von Braun learned the identity of his brilliant opponent. The Soviet administration initially struggled with disagreements and competing interests over the choice of Korolev’s successor and the course of future development for a Moon rocket that had never ended up exhibiting capabilities for crewed flight. Historians therefore regard Korolev's death as a decisive milestone in the race to the Moon between the two world powers of the USSR and USA, in which NASA eventually took the lead.

Image processing

The video was produced using a mosaic of images acquired during five orbits (18,042, 5726, 5692, 5654 and 1412) by HRSC. These images cover a region from 161.8 degrees to 168.0 degrees east and 71.7 degrees to 73.8 degrees north. The mosaic image was combined with topographic information from the HRSC stereo channels to create a three-dimensional landscape. Finally, this 'virtual' Martian landscape was 'imaged' from different angles – similar to a film camera in a helicopter – and the flyover was generated.

The HRSC experiment on Mars Express

The High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) was developed by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and built in collaboration with partners in industry (EADS Astrium, Lewicki microelectronic GmbH and Jena-Optronik GmbH). The science team, which is headed by Principal Investigator (PI) Ralf Jaumann, consists of 52 co-investigators from 34 institutions in 11 countries. The camera is operated by the DLR Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin-Adlershof, where the systematic processing of the camera data is also carried out. Staff in the Department of Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing at Freie Universität Berlin used the data to create the video shown here.

Contact

Daniela Tirsch
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
DLR Institute of Planetary Research
Telephone: +49 30 67055-488
Fax: +49 30 67055-402
Linder Höhe
51147 Köln

Prof.Dr. Ralf Jaumann
Freie Universität Berlin
Institute of Geological Sciences
Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing
Telephone: +49-172-2355864
Malteserstr. 74-100
12249 Berlin