Point Nemo serves as a global spacecraft graveyard since 1971, when nations began leaving old satellites and spacecraft there for disposal.
To reduce space junk that could endanger working satellites or humans if it falls back down, they are purposefully put into graveyard orbit or sent directly over an ocean surface.
How They Are Disposed Of
If a satellite no longer functions properly, scientists have devised ways of disposing of it safely – either boosting it further into space (known as graveyard orbit) or using any remaining fuel to slow its reentry back to Earth – in order to prevent it from careening toward inhabited land or other satellites in its immediate vicinity as was seen with America’s Skylab space station which crashed over Western Australia in 1979.
To successfully lower a satellite’s orbit to its graveyard, its batteries and charging circuit must first be entirely passivated so no one accidentally starts it up years later. After this step has taken place, a re-entry control system is used to guide its descent over this remote region of the Pacific Ocean – this method has been employed on everything from cargo ships carrying astronaut poop to decommissioned Russian space station Mir, according to Gizmodo’s Kiona Smith-Strickland. This area was selected since no innocent people would be hurt from falling pieces of spacecraft falling in its path en route en route en route.
Why They Are Disposed Of
Once a satellite has fulfilled its intended function, it must be removed from orbit and destroyed properly. Unfortunately, many forms of human-made space junk — unused satellites and pieces of other spacecraft that no longer serve their original function — remain orbiting Earth, creating space debris which may cause collisions and cause harm to working satellites.
GEO satellites that reach their end of life are typically placed into a graveyard orbit when their lifespan ends, with engines fired to bring them back down into Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.
However, many of these objects contain toxic rocket fuels which may ignite during reentry and release dangerous ash clouds that threaten other spacecraft. To combat this problem, scientists are exploring solutions which would enable defunct satellites to remain in space rather than returning into Earth’s atmosphere and landing in its oceanic expanse. At present, Point Nemo serves as the final resting place for over 260 spacecraft, including Mir and three Salyut satellites from Russia’s former space station program.
The Final Destination
Spacecraft graveyards are where large satellites are deposited once their missions have come to an end, such as when they reach the end of their lifespan and have reached their disposal orbit – often much lower than their operational orbits – before slowly losing altitude until eventually falling back down into Earth’s atmosphere where they will burn up completely or scatter into its oceanic layers as debris.
Since 1971, nations such as Russia, the US, Japan and Europe have been disposing of their old satellites and rocket stages at Point Nemo in an ideal spot that’s far away from human habitats and contains water that does not contain nutrients.
Graveyards are beneficial because they help keep space junk from piling up to an alarmingly large quantity that would threaten to spark chain reactions of collisions until all pieces of debris reached Earth’s surface – though most will burn up during reentry anyway.
The Environmental Impact
An orbiting satellite that does not deorbit could reenter Earth’s atmosphere and crash to the ground, leaving behind space junk that can damage other objects in orbit and compromise functioning satellites. To prevent such a catastrophic outcome from happening, anyone launching anything into space nowadays needs a plan in place either for sending their item outward into an inactive orbit or back toward Earth again.
As it leaves its home planet in 2030, the International Space Station will join thousands of satellites and spacecraft that have already made their way to Point Nemo as it becomes part of the ocean floor. Since 1971, it has served as an ocean floor burial ground, free from humans yet protected by currents that prevent nutrients from washing through.
Spacecraft cemetery debris typically comprises safe materials like stainless steel and titanium alloys; toxic rocket fuels tend to burn upon reentry; only a fraction of material that falls to the bottom of the ocean survives.