Video: Where is the graveyard orbit in space, where do satellites go after they 'die'? If they fall on earth, they are buried here


Russia's satellite RESURS-P1 has exploded in space, after which its garbage has scattered in space. This garbage also posed a threat to the lives of passengers of the International Space Station (ISS). RESURS-P1 was a satellite that was declared dead in 2022. This raises the question as to what are the rules regarding the operation of old satellites and where is the graveyard of satellites in space.

The United Nations introduced guidelines for old satellites in 2007.

Image Credit: Pixabay

The destruction of Russia's satellite RESURS-P1 in space has posed a threat to the International Space Station (ISS). More than 100 broken parts of the satellite are moving at high speed in Earth's orbit. In such a situation, scientists are worried that these pieces can cause damage to the rest of the satellites in Earth's orbit including the ISS. What was the reason for the breakdown of RESURS-P1 has not been confirmed yet. But the satellite was declared dead in 2022. This raises the question that what are the rules regarding the operation of old satellites and where is the graveyard of satellites in space.

The US Space Command, which is monitoring the space debris, said that there is no threat to any other satellite from the Russian satellite. This incident happened in an orbit near the ISS, due to which the space station passengers had to take shelter in their spacecraft for about an hour. The report of the US National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service explains what happens to a satellite when it is declared dead.

What is the danger from space junk?

Since the 1950s, humans have launched thousands of rockets and sent even more satellites into space. According to a statistic, about 2 thousand active satellites are orbiting the Earth, while 3 thousand dead satellites are also spreading garbage in space. At present, space junk has not posed any major risk to space exploration. But it remains a constant threat to the rest of the satellites in orbit. Apart from this, there is also a risk of a damaged satellite suddenly falling to the earth. If the satellite is not operated properly, the pieces of the satellite can cause damage to residential areas.

What are the rules regarding old satellites?

Like everything else, satellites don't last forever. They have limited fuel and the harsh conditions of outer space can take their toll. Keeping this in mind, the United Nations introduced some guidelines in 2007.

A satellite orbiting close to Earth is moved from a higher to a lower orbit so that it can naturally re-enter the atmosphere within 25 years. This is also called the '25-year rule'. As soon as the satellite starts falling back towards Earth, the heat generated by air friction will burn the satellite, causing it to die before it reaches the surface.

There is a 'graveyard of spaceships' at this point on Earth

One guideline that is followed closely is the 25-year rule. If an investigation determines the satellite has a less than 1 in 10,000 chance of causing injury or property damage, it can be dropped to Earth. But if the chance of damage is high, a "controlled deorbit" is required. In this, engineers use the satellite's remaining fuel to slow and steer it, causing it to fall out of orbit and into the Pacific Ocean, called Point Nemo.

Point Nemo is the place that is farthest from the land. It is named after the famous submarine sailor from Jules Verne's book 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea'. Due to its favorable location, more than 300 satellites have been sunk at this point since 1970. There is a plan to sink the International Space Station (ISS) here after its retirement in 2031. Due to all this, Point Nemo is also known as the 'spacecraft graveyard'.

Space's 'graveyard orbit'

Not all satellites can burn easily in the atmosphere. Some satellites are very high above the Earth. They need a lot of fuel to slow them down, which will significantly reduce their mission life. Therefore, such satellites are taken to the 'graveyard orbit' of space instead of calling them to Earth.

These satellites burn fuel in their last moments and go to a height of 22,400 miles from the Earth. This orbit is at a height of 300 kilometers from the orbit of the active satellite. Once the satellite reaches the 'graveyard orbit', its system shuts down. The remaining fuel is exhausted and they keep revolving in the same orbit for a long time.