When a spacecraft falls to earth, where does it end up? Most fallen large satellites, space stations, and other space objects end up in Point Nemo, an area miles off the southeast coast of New Zealand. It’s also referred to as the most remote place on Earth.
"It's in the Pacific Ocean and is pretty much the farthest place from any human civilization you can find," NASA reiterated.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) orbit closer to this spacecraft graveyard than any other object on earth. ISS orbits 250 miles above Earth. This graveyard also called the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility or the South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area is 1,450 miles away from land and civilization and is a tomb for hundreds of retired satellites.
It stretches 3,000 kilometers from north to south, by about 5,000 kilometers from west to east. The depths are cold, dark and house little sea life. Mostly sponges, whales, viperfish and octopi. It’s as much an alien environment as the one the spaceships left behind.
The exact coordinates of this space cemetery are 48 degrees 52.6 minutes’ south latitude and 123 degrees 23.6 minutes west longitude if you feel like whipping out Google Earth.
To actually lay these spacecraft to rest, space agencies have to time the crash correctly from orbit. Deposing of the smaller satellites is easy, heat from air friction as it catapults toward Earth burns the satellite to dust before it hits the ocean. Larger satellites in a low orbit is a more significant problem as they will likely not burn completely.
Between 1971 and mid-2016, global space agencies dumped an estimated 260 spacecraft debris into Point Nemo. Included in the tally are 4 of Japan’s HTV cargo craft, 5 of the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles, 140 Russian resupply vehicles, several of the European Space Agency's cargo ships (like the Jules Verne ATV), and even a SpaceX rocket, according to Smithsonian.
China’s first space station Tiangong-1 or “Heavenly Place,” launched in 2011 and is now out of Chinese control and lost somewhere in the nether. The 8.5-ton station is due to crash in a matter of months, but no one knows where. When it does begin its descent, hundreds of pounds of the craft will fall to earth at 180-miles per hour, though it's likely it won’t fall over Nemo.
"Based on our calculation and analysis, most parts of the space lab will burn up during falling," said Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office at a conference last year.
Though it’s pretty unlikely that anyone will be hit with space stuff.
"It's not impossible, but since the beginning of the space age .... a woman who was brushed on the shoulder in Oklahoma is the only one we're aware of who's been touched by a piece of space debris," Bill Ailor, an aerospace engineer, and atmospheric reentry specialist told Business Insider.
Here’s hoping. Another reason why this final resting place is so important.