What will replace the ISS in 2031?

The International Space Station or ISS is to be deorbited by 2031. Where will it go? Satellites and spacecraft are machines, similar to washing machines and vacuum cleaners. They will not last forever. It doesn’t matter what job they do, whether it’s to observe weather, measure greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, or study the stars. All space machines grow old, wear out and die.

For satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), engineers use the last bit of fuel to slow it down. When the fuel runs out, it falls out of orbit and burns up in the atmosphere. The satellites in very high orbits are sent even further away from Earth, since more fuel is required to bring them down! These satellites are sent into a so-called ‘graveyard orbit, almost 36,000 km above Earth. Space stations and large spacecraft that are in LEO are too large to incinerate entirely on re-entry. So the deorbiting is monitored closely to ensure the debris falls on a remote, uninhabited area. There is an area like this. It’s nicknamed ‘spacecraft cemetery’ and it lies in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean at a spot called Point Nemo. (‘Nemo’ is Latin for ‘nobody’.) Point Nemo is so remote that the ISS will meet its watery grave there. It is considered ideal for dumping space debris as the waters are said to be poor in nutrients and biodiversity. No one has really studied the marine life or lack of it in Point Nemo. Environmentalists fear that in addition to the space junk already present in Point Nemo, the ISS debris will add tons of experimental equipment, materials and even traces of altered human DNA.  

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