Did you know there's a spacecraft graveyard off the coast of New Zealand?

2019-11-01 20:45
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In the depths of the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of New Zealand, lies the final resting place of defunct and discarded spacecraft. 

Centred near Point Nemo or the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility - the furthest spot from any land in the world - this is the point where space stations, satellites and spacecraft get shuttled when they've outlived their usefulness, instead of left floating out in space.

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Out there, they become dangerous debris and would hinder spaceships going to and from the International Space Station (ISS), as well as the launch of new satellites. 

Another danger is that the Earth's gravity will pull free-flying spacecraft into its atmosphere, potentially crashing into populated areas causing death and destruction - which is why this graveyard is literally in the middle of nowhere.

The nearest landmass is 2 700kms away, and at certain times of the day the astronauts on the ISS would be the closest humans to Point Nemo. 

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There's more than 260 spacecraft lying at the bottom of this graveyard, piling up since 1971, which include the MIR Russian space station scuttled in 2001 according to Popular Science. Other notable residents include rockets' secondary payloads, spy satellites, Salyut stations, fuel tanks and cargo ships.

While there hasn't been a major spacecraft death in a while, the next big-ticket item will eventually be the ISS, which is projected to be decommissioned in 2028 and will require some fine calculations to get it to re-enter Earth's orbit. The private space race will also start filling up this cemetery soon, and currently about 4 000 satellites are orbiting our planet - and they all will become defunct in the future.

For archaeologists of the future, it will be a huge treasure trove of humankind's space history - by which time we might already have made a second home in the stars. 

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