In moments of deep, soul-piercing introspection, whether it be in the shower or while munching down on a taco, do you find yourself wondering: “What happens when satellites fall?” Well, here’s the answer.
Space garbage is becoming a real and pressing problem for governments and aeronautical corporations.
Right now there are around 4,000 satellites currently orbiting the planet, and each and every one will become waste at some point in the future.
When a satellite becomes unusable, there are two lines of action depending on how high it is.
If the satellite is close enough to Earth, engineers will use the last bit of fuel in it to slow it down, forcing it to fall out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere. That’s certainly the preferred and most “aseptic” scenario.
If the satellite is too high, engineers will do the exact opposite. They’ll use the last bit of fuel to blast it further into space.
The thing is, all the junk we’ve pushed away in space since the late 50’s has gathered in a massive “graveyard orbit” some 35,000 kilometres above Earth.
But that’s a problem for another day. Our focus here is on the third possible scenario: when space junk is too big to burn during re-entry.
Those huge chunks of high-tech garbage are the ones that can fall on your head during a perfect sunny day. Well, only one person in history has ever been recorded to have been hit by a piece of falling space junk.
When these objects are too big to burn entirely, they are directed to land on Earth in a place designated specifically for space junk.
This location is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is pretty much the most isolated place on the planet. It’s so remote the crew members of the ISS are actually the nearest humans to it.
This mammoth spacecraft cemetery is called “Point Nemo”, and if you ever want to go there on holidays, the exact coordinates are 48 degrees 52.6 minutes south latitude and 123 degrees 23.6 minutes west longitude.
It’s reported space agencies from all over the world have dumped at least 260 spacecraft and other space-related junk into the region since 1971.
The cemetery has illustrious dwellers the likes of the MIR space station, The Jules Verne ATV and even a SpaceX rocket.
So there you have it. When satellites fall, we either let them burn up, shoot them into space or dump them in the ocean. Elegant, no?