Thanks to WTSP for this:

Located in a remote part of the South Pacific Ocean, an area referred to as “Point Nemo” holds hundreds of pieces of space history below its surface.

The International Space Station will purposely crash here in 2031.

Soon to be added to that list is the International Space Station. NASA says once the orbiting laboratory is decommissioned in 2031 it will intentionally crash-land in the portion of the ocean deemed to be the “farthest place from any human civilization you can find.”

But why?

There are a few contributing factors when it comes to the choice in location and the decision to have certain spacecraft meet a watery demise.

Point Nemo

“Point Nemo,” named after the famous submarine sailor from “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” is located about 1,670 miles from land, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The nearest islands to the spot are Ducie Island (one of the Easter Islands) and Mather Island (part of Antarctica).

Using an isolated area allows officials to eliminate additional outward impacts once the massive spacecraft comes barreling down into the water from low Earth orbit.

As for why NASA and other space agencies choose to sink things like satellites and space stations into the ocean as opposed to sending them elsewhere? It has everything to do with the object’s size and distance from the Earth.

“For the closer satellites, engineers will use its last bit of fuel to slow it down. That way, it will fall out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere,” NASA wrote.

Point Nemo

On the other hand, satellites that happen to be orbiting further away from the Earth are sent deeper into space to be committed to a life in the “graveyard orbit.”

NASA says the Spacecraft Cemetery” is solely reserved for objects that may not entirely burn up before reaching the ground if deorbited. Intentionally crash-landing the spacecraft allows operators to both plan for its final destination and contain its debris.

The European Space Agency, in 2018, reported that the Pacific Ocean has been used as a spacecraft burial ground since 1971 and contains more than 260 satellites.

Also lingering below the surface is the 135-ton Russian outpost named “Mir” that was decommissioned in 2001. At the time, the space station was said to be the “heaviest thing orbiting our planet other than the Moon itself.”

Point Nemo

The environmental impact of retiring spacecraft into the Pacific Ocean is widely unknown with limited research on the topic available.

But a study published in 2019 by Vito De Lucia, a postdoctoral fellow at the K. G. Jebsen Center for the Law of the Sea and Viviana Iavicoli, a researcher at the Institute for International Legal Studies, has looked into the impacts beyond the surface.

According to their findings, residual re-entry mass could contain harmful substances “which poses issues for the protection and preservation of the marine environment.”

There is also a noted chemical risk regarding “hydrazine,” a type of rocket propellant, which has been deemed “very toxic” to aquatic organisms. But both the study and Holger Krag, Head of the Space Safety Programme Office at the European Space Agency, said that propellant surviving re-entry isn’t always the case.

Krag told CNN that while some rocket fuels are toxic, they burn up during re-entry. He also noted that objects sitting in the “Space Cemetery” were typically made of non-toxic metals like stainless steel and titanium.

 

Leave a Reply Cancel reply