The Spacecraft Cemetery

At sea, in a faraway corner of the Pacific Ocean lies an extraordinary graveyard of spacecraft known as “The Spacecraft Cemetery”. Here can be found hundreds of decommissioned satellites and other spacecraft that were carefully guided here once their lifespans ended.

To minimize the chance that debris might accidentally land in an urban center, this is done deliberately to minimize risk. But it doesn’t always prove easy.


Once satellites and other spacecraft reach the end of their useful lives, two options exist when disposing of them – putting them into a graveyard orbit or allowing them to crash to Earth. Many agencies including NASA prefer this latter approach as it reduces orbital debris that could collide with operating satellites and spacecraft.

Crashing to Earth also presents the threat of damage. To reduce the chances that larger pieces will hit something on Earth, many agencies time reentry over Point Nemo – often known as the Spacecraft Cemetery for its remoteness.

Since 1971, this remote spot has been used as a crash site. Today, over 160 pieces of debris including 140 Russian resupply crafts and the Soviet-era MIR space station have landed here; when they land they typically create an oval footprint of debris several miles wide and one thousand miles long.


At the edge of space lies an unimaginably remote graveyard orbit, filled with hundreds of decommissioned satellites, rockets and space stations that have come to the end of their operational lifespans. When they no longer serve their intended function, space agencies place these inactive orbiters into this “graveyard orbit” to prevent collisions with any working satellites in orbit.

If a satellite gets too close to another spacecraft in orbit, it can create a dangerous debris cloud which may hinder future launches or damage any satellites in its path. Engineers can prevent this by steering an aged craft toward its graveyard orbit when its time has come for retirement.

Since 1971, the Pacific Ocean’s “Spacecraft Cemetery” has provided a convenient dumping ground for any and all remnants of space exploration. From Russia’s MIR space station to American resupply ships – everything that has entered this graveyard orbit will eventually end up here – giving engineers ample latitude in planning reentry maneuvers for these craft.

Environmental Impact

As satellites, rockets, and other spacecraft reach the end of their lifespans, they typically descend towards Earth via a carefully planned de-orbit maneuver. Instead of entering our atmosphere where they could hit something or hurtling into space where it could impact other missions, their trajectory is directed to Point Nemo for safe landing.

This remote patch of ocean is far away from land and human civilization, providing the ideal spot for plunging spacecraft to their death. Since 1971, nearly 300 retired satellites and space stations – such as Russia’s Mir station in 2001 – have been abandoned there.

This area of the Pacific is home to sponges, sea stars, octopi and whales; but as hundreds of wrecked ships slowly dismantle they could create a hazardous mess for marine life below. Therefore it’s imperative for anyone launching anything into orbit to carefully plan its de-orbit procedure; for example the ESA’s Progress cargo spacecraft–used for resupplying International Space Station–is designed to burn up in its entry to Earth’s atmosphere.


As more nations and companies venture into space, the number of objects orbiting Earth will only continue to increase exponentially, increasing the chances that an object could strike against human-built satellites or spacecraft.

Small satellites may disintegrate or burn up as they fall back to Earth, while larger craft such as space stations and rockets require an engineered landing. As such, many operators deliberately directed their retired satellites towards an isolated region in the Pacific Ocean known as “Spacecraft Cemetery.”

Since 1971, space agencies have strategically deposited hundreds of decommissioned spacecraft in this remote location that is far away from both land and people, but is close enough for shipping activity so as to reduce any risk of spacecrafts crashing into maritime traffic. When the International Space Station retires in 2031, its debris could also likely be brought here for burial; this practice should help minimize debris levels throughout our solar system and hopefully help make our world cleaner!

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