Possible Evolutions of Space Insurance

The preceding sections have highlighted the fact that the insurance market is already affording some coverage in respect to damages caused by space debris, but with the increasing growth of space debris and development of debris removal projects, there is a room for the insurance market to offer some support in the development of such debris removal projects.

Before reviewing some paths of evolution for the insurers, a brief market review has to be done.

Space insurance market review

2019 was a negative year for the space insurance market, accounting for cumulative losses of less than 800,000,000 USD for a premium amounting to 400,000,000 USD (Fig. 7.2). Due to these bad results some insurers have decided to withdraw their participation in space risks19, some others have hardened their conditions, including increase of premium rates and some others have decreased their participation.

Andreas Berger, a Swiss Re board member in charge of the corporate insurance arm, said (...) that the company would be reducing its exposure to the space industry, as part of an overhaul of the loss-making division [11].

From 1999 to 2019, this figure shows the premium earned by the insurers and the claims paid for each year

Figure 7.2: From 1999 to 2019, this figure shows the premium earned by the insurers and the claims paid for each year. The year 2019 shows clearly that the premium earned is almost twice less than the claims paid. Source: AON ISB Q1 2020 Market Report [12]

Despite these bad results, we have not seen any hardening conditions for space debris coverage, but we expect the insurers to look at more closely to the debris risks, when assessing a risk.

Insurance support: line of thoughts

In this section we will explore ways for the insurers to support space debris removal and even remediation projects.

Firstly, it must be noted that we cannot anticipate the reaction of the insurance market, when the exposure to space debris will become more concrete in terms of intensity of loss as well as frequency. Therefore, we believe that relying on a dedicated regulation of space debris would permit the insurers to rely on the regulation and to know what would be the extent of their exposure. A regulation would facilitate the drafting of an insurance policy specifically adapted to the regulation. The development of debris mitigation requirements, guidelines and practices is welcomed by the insurance providers as it would give better certainty for the insurance environment.

Secondly, we could explore the possibility of having a complete scheme of insurance proposed by the insurers and dedicated to debris removal missions, such as full cover including both first party property insurance and third party liability insur?ance. This would have the advantage of offering a full package with dedicated terms, conditions and premium rates adapted to such missions.

Thirdly, we could envision a situation where the insurers give a sort of incentive to space operators that are complying with space debris mitigation guidelines, by affording for example premium decrease (for both first party property and third party liability insurances). In this case, the insured would be somehow rewarded as acting as “good father” in complying with space debris mitigation, removal guidelines.

Fourthly, a path that could be followed is the creation of a common insurance fund, to which space operators could contribute, such a fund being fully dedicated to space debris risks. It could take the form of an international fund the aim of which will be to compensate for damage caused by unidentifiable space debris, whether occurring on Earth or in outer space. Some experts have brought up the idea of having the fund contributed to by the space community, by way for example of an obligation to participate in it for each object to be launched, a contribution that could also be based on the debris mitigation plans to be followed by the participating space operator[1].

Fifthly, aside from the application of a strict census of insurance coverages, there is a legal and contractual system that could limit the exposure of the insurers and therefore, reduce the insurance premium. Such a system is commonly known under the appellation of cross-waiver of liability and hold harmless. The use of said clauses within a contractual relation leads to limiting the liability that is borne by a space operator vis-a-vis its contractor and third party by having its liability undertaken totally or partially by its contractor. The contractual practices between space actors may benefit insurers as well in limiting their exposure to the extent that the liability of the insured is limited.

Finally, there is another protection of a space operator to be explored, which is the application of State liability above the liability cap of an authorized operator as set up by some domestic space regulations[2]. Under these regulations, the authorisation State agrees to bear the liability of its authorised operator above a certain liability cap (sometimes associated with an insurance obligation). In this case, the space operator doesn’t bear any liability above the cap and will rely on the State to indemnify the eventual victims. We could think of extending this mechanism to damages caused by space debris (above or not above a certain liability cap) and having the State liable for this type of risk. As a complement and to permit the State not to be fully exposed, an insurance fund could be put in place, in order to cover the liability of the State.

  • [1] See SPACE DEBRIS AND THE LAW - Dr. Frans G. von der Dunk [13].
  • [2] Such as French, US and UK to some extent. France. Loi n° 2008-518 du 3 juin 2008 relativeaux operations spatiales [14]. UK. Space Industry Act 2018 [15], United States of America,U.S Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act
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