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17th July 2020

Flight over Korolev Crater on Mars

The European Space Agency (ESA) has released a new video, based on images taken by the orbiting Mars Express, showing the 81 km (51 mile) Korolev crater on Mars.

Korolev is located on the Planum Boreum, a plain which surrounds the Martian north pole. The crater was named after Sergei Korolev (1907–1966), the head Soviet rocket engineer and designer during the Space Race in the 1950s and 1960s. It contains about 2,200 cubic kilometres (530 cu mi) of water ice – comparable in volume to Great Bear Lake in northern Canada. The crater rim rises about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) above the surrounding plains. The ice is permanently stable, because the crater acts as a natural cold trap. The thin Martian air above the crater ice is colder than air surrounding the crater; the colder local atmosphere is also heavier, so it sinks to form a protective layer, insulating the ice, shielding it from melting and evaporation.

Mars Express had photographed this crater previously, and ESA published an image in December 2018. The new movie shown here is an image mosaic, based on single orbital observations from the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on Mars Express, combined with topographic information from the stereo channels of the HRSC. This generated a three-dimensional landscape, able to be recorded from different perspectives, as though filmed by a movie camera, to render the flight seen in the video.

Launched in June 2003, Mars Express remains operational after more than 17 years – making it the second longest lasting, continually active spacecraft in orbit around a planet other than Earth, behind only NASA's still active Mars Odyssey probe (April 2001). Due to its valuable science return and the highly flexible mission profile, Mars Express has been granted several mission extensions. The latest one, scheduled to end in late 2020, is expected to receive another extension lasting until 2022.

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