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6.25.19
Davy Jones' Locker

A Look Inside the Deep-Sea Graveyard for Dead Spacecraft

June 14th 19__Dan Robitzski__Filed Under: Off World
NASA/Victor Tangermann

Watery Grave

Deep beneath the Pacific Ocean at Point Nemo, the region between New Zealand and South America farthest from any landmass, lies a mass grave containing hundreds of discarded carcasses.

These bodies, often shattered into several pieces as they descended, were once satellites, rockets, space stations, and other spacecraft carefully steered into the remote patch of ocean, dubbed the Spacecraft Cemetery, when they ran out of fuel or were otherwise decommissioned.

Orbital Minefield

If satellites were left in orbit after being decommissioned, then they would pose a hazard to future launches as they careen across the sky. To prevent collisions, hundreds of spacecraft have been sent down to Point Nemo since 1971.

“Countries have learned over the years that when they create debris, it presents a risk to their own systems just as it does for everybody else,” aerospace engineer Bill Ailor told Business Insider in 2017. “We’ve figured out that this debris can stay up there for hundreds of years.”

Coming In Hot

Smaller spacecraft will incinerate as they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. But space stations, like Russia’s MIR, need to be brought down carefully so they don’t crash into anyone or anything, Popular Science wrote in 2016. The International Space Station, when it’s decommissioned in the coming years, will face the same fate.

When it lands, it’ll join the roughly 300 other spacecraft laid to rest at Point Nemo, piling on top of the cosmic wreckage at the ocean’s floor.

READ MORE: A spacecraft graveyard exists in the middle of the ocean — here’s what’s down there [Business Insider]

More on space junk: SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites Could Make Space a Minefield