July 31, 2012 by
A growing proliferation of “man-made space junk” threatens satellites and space stations, approximately a quarter of which are insured against losses from physical damage and service interruption, states a recent report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS).
The study, Space Risks: A New Generation of Challenges, notes there are now more than 35 million objects in orbit, ranging from defunct satellites to rocket boosters to broken space exploration equipment.
“The space around our planet is becoming increasingly congested,” said Thierry Colliot, managing director of space insurance at AGCS. “The number of objects is now so high that it won’t decay on its own through atmospheric drag. Instead, it’s actually increasing as objects collide and produce fragments, which in turn collide in a runaway chain reaction.”
As an example, the report cites the case of a defunct Russian satellite colliding with and destroying a U.S. commercial satellite in 2009. Another case involved the crew of the International Space Station forcing to evacuate on two occasions in 2010 and 2011 when a large piece of space debris came too close.
Colliot identified “space crowding, the extreme and stringent conditions of the environment, the difficulties surrounding work on spacecrafts in orbit and the impact of space debris falling to Earth” as among the challenges in the space insurance industry.
AGCS notes that insurance premiums for space risks reached almost $800 million in 2011, with losses totalling approximately $600 million. Rising launch values, a decreasing premium pool and increasing risk exposures are major issues facing aerospace insurance, the report adds.