by Staff Writers
Bethesda MD (SPX) Jun 21, 2016
Sometime in the next 10 years or so, ISS will be deorbited into a remote area of the Earth's surface. Most experts expect that location will be the South Pacific Ocean. The specific area is well-known as the "Spacecraft Cemetery." This area, about 2,400 miles southeast of Wellington, New Zealand, is the final resting place for many decommissioned satellites, including the Mir Space Station and many trash-filled Progress Cargo Modules.
This location was selected because it is remote, off the normal shipping lanes and reachable by reentering spacecraft returning from high-inclination orbits. Since Mir and ISS were placed in orbits with inclinations of about 51.6 degrees their flight paths overfly the South Pacific. Thus, by proper timing of a de-orbit burn, these vehicles will passively reenter and reach the Earth's surface in the desired area.
If the ISS were abandoned and left to naturally de-orbit, the 1,000,000 pound spacecraft would eventually reenter the atmosphere, break up and scatter hundreds of pieces of debris with masses ranging from a few pounds to 100,000 pounds possibly into any of the many highly populated regions of the Earth. Thus, a controlled de-orbit is a matter of international public safety.
There are no islands in the area of the "cemetery," and the nearest shores are thousands of miles away. This, combined with the fact that ship traffic is light in this region, make it an ideal place for spacecraft to plunge back to Earth. In fact, the cemetery is near Point Nemo, the location which is furthest from any land mass, at 48.4 degrees south latitude and 123.4 degrees west longitude. The nearest land is 1,600 miles south - Antarctica.
A recent catalog of wrecked spacecraft fragments at the cemetery would list some 145 Russian Progress modules, four Japanese HTV cargo ships, five of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicles, six Russian Salyut space stations and one Russian Mir space station. Expect many more residents to arrive over the next decade as the ISS completes its multi-decade mission.
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