The spacecraft cemetery you never knew about

By Matt Tomlin

On Earth, there is a place which is ideal for artificial satellites to land.

That place is within the area around the point furthest from land. Known as the “Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility” or “Point Nemo”, this point is the safest and the most environmentally-friendly for dumping satellites which need to be discontinued and also have the issue of being too large to simply burn up completely in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The zone around this point, inside which 260 spacecrafts have been brought down already, hosts extremely little human or marine life as so few species are able to live in the area due to a lack of currents bringing them in.

The area, which is 1500 square kilometres (580 square miles) of sea between Australia, New Zealand and South America, is so remote that there is a significant margin of error for ground controllers when managing the descents of these large spacecrafts towards “Point Nemo”.

There is a great need to deliver constructed space objects back to Earth. Around 170 million pieces of notable space junk orbit the planet with the significance of the objects ranging from paint flakes to the International Space Station.

The high speeds of these objects, estimated to reach up to 27,000 kilometres per hour (16 777 miles per hour), mean that even the smallest of them could be destructive.

Scientists have warned that increasing numbers of man-made structures surrounding the Earth could cause serious damage and inevitably economic consequences to satellites and stations currently in use. Furthermore, it has been understood in the scientific community that too much space debris held by the gravitational pull of the Earth could cause complications when launching rockets in the future.

Such issues mean it is vital that ground controllers retain control of their space craft and use the area surrounding the “Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility” to bring them back to Earth as safely as possible.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case as next year the Chinese Tiangong-1 space station will be brought down but with the engineers having no control over its descent. It would seem unwise for engineers to be negligent about the risks of this lack of control in future especially when, within the next ten years, the International Space Station is going to be brought back down to Earth.

A space “graveyard” appears to not be just that. It is a necessity.

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