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Winter wonderland in red and white

» Read more about Korolev Crater on Mars

The 82-kilometer-diameter crater Korolev was named after Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (1907-1966), the chief constructor and father of Russian space technology. Engineer Korolev developed the first Russian intercontinental rocket R7, the precursor of the modern Soyuz rockets that are still operated today. With his rocket and spacecraft design, Korolev was responsible for the first man-made satellite of Earth Sputnik in 1957, and for the first human spaceflight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961.

The impact crater Korolev is situated in the northern lowlands of Mars, south of the large dune field Olympia Undae that surrounds part of the north polar cap. Korolev’s crater floor lies two kilometer below its rim, and is covered whole year round with a large central mound of water ice. This 1.8-kilometer-thick domed deposit represents a large reservoir of non-polar ice on Mars.

Water ice is permanently stable within Korolev crater because the deepest part of this depression acts as a natural cold trap. The air above the ice cools and is thus heavier compared to the surrounding air. Since air is a poor conductor of heat, the ice is shielded from the surrounding. Only minor warm-up due to heat transfer will happen, and the cold air protects the ice mound effectively from heating and sublimation.

The northern rim of Korolev crater was also imaged by the CaSSIS camera on board ExoMars as one of the first places on Mars on 15 April 2018, only some days after HRSC recorded the crater in orbit 18042. ExoMars is an ESA space program dedicated to the search of life on Mars. It consists of two parts: the ExoMars 2016 mission brought the Trace Gas Orbiter into a Mars orbit in 2016, but failed to deliver successfully the landing module Schiaparelli to the surface of Mars. For the near future, the ExoMars 2020 mission is planned, comprising a surface platform and a rover that should land in Oxia Planum, at the dichotomy boundary of Mars in 2021.