The Spacecraft Graveyard in the Middle of Nowhere

Andrei Tapalaga

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Space Junk Clean-Up OperationPhoto byHistory of Yesterday

There are innumerable metal and trash fragments in space. A few thousand pieces of barely trackable former satellites, operational spacecraft, abandoned satellites, and debris from previous launches and repairs, are swirling about the Earth at speeds that would make even a grain of sand a highly deadly missile. According to experts, there is a significant danger of collision, which, if it spirals out of control, might result in a catastrophic incident.

Instead of leaving all the dead spacecraft in orbit around the Earth forever, scientists were ordered to discover a way to destroy them. They discovered that Point Nemo, in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything and everyone, is the greatest site to dump space debris since whatever goes up in space must come down to Earth.

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Point NemoPhoto byHistory of Yesterday

Point Nemo was chosen as the location for the space graveyard where outdated satellites, rocket components, and entire space stations are laid to rest because of its separation from populated areas and major commerce lanes. Numerous spacecraft that accomplished their goals survived the harsh conditions of space, and the jarring landing on Earth is now submerged 4000 meters beneath the surface of the ocean.

Point Nemo is the ideal location for a spaceship cemetery since it has little marine life, therefore there is no need for protests over the potential for wildlife contamination brought on by a large number of abandoned spacecraft dropped at the bottom of the ocean. The South Pacific Gyre, a huge rotating circulation that blocks the passage of nutrient-rich water into the region, is located at the coordinates of Point Nemo. This area of the ocean is the least ecologically active in the entire world's seas since it cannot support most life without any food sources.

But why Point Nemo? This is based on Captain Nemo, the main character in the famous book "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". The Captain is well known for exploring the depths of the ocean with his submarine, therefore an interesting name given by scientists for this space junk graveyard.

Organizing the disposal of a decommissioned space station into a space cemetery takes a large team of highly competent individuals. Engineers must carefully calculate where to de-orbit a spaceship so that it re-enters the Earth's atmosphere precisely where they want it to, i.e., in the middle of nowhere, in order to dump some space debris at Point Nemo successfully.

The European Space Agency has a dedicated Debris Office with a large staff of experts who are focused on developing risk assessment models for space debris, developing in-orbit collision avoidance strategies, forecasting re-entry, keeping track of all trackable objects that have been lost in space, and evaluating on-ground risk.

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