Breakdown: Why a space cemetery exists in the Pacific Ocean

Breakdown: Why a space cemetery exists in the Pacific Ocean

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Satellites orbit around Earth and monitor weather, the atmosphere and even help provide GPS data. But what happens to all the old satellites when they die?

According to NASA, there are two main things that happen to decommissioned satellites.

For satellites that are closer to Earth, engineers slow down the movement so it falls back to Earth. Most (if not all) of the satellite will burn up as it plummets through Earth’s atmosphere. This is because the friction of the air creates high heat and causes the satellite to burn.

For bigger spacecrafts and space stations that will not completely burn when entering the atmosphere, NASA had to find an area on Earth where debris wouldn’t cause harm to humans. The Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility is a remote area in the Pacific Ocean that is considered one of the farthest places from civilization. This is nicknamed the “Space Cemetery” since it’s where spacecraft go to die.

From 1971 to 2016, about 263 spacecrafts have been sent to this Space Cemetery. In 2028, the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to crash back to Earth and finally rest at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

However, slowing a satellite requires a lot of fuel, so bringing it back to Earth may not always be the best option. If the satellite is in a higher orbit, it requires less fuel to send it farther out into space. In this case, the satellite or spacecraft will be sent into “graveyard orbits” over 22,000 miles from Earth. As more companies send satellites into space, there is some worry about overcrowding in these graveyards.

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