Space: June 13, 2002

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The satellite launch industry is running into a brick wall. Insurance costs for satellite launches have risen 50 percent in three years, while the terms of such insurance have fallen from five years to only one. During 2001, the insurance industry collected only $490 million in premiums but suffered launch and orbital failures that will cost it three times that much. A new generation of 4.5-ton telecommunications satellites are finding it impossible to get insurance; the launch agencies are having to assume much of the risk. Insurance companies are now refusing to accept the risk for new technologies or changes from established designs. Most military satellites are launched at government risk, but many dual-use satellites are launched under commercial contracts, as are the various commercial photographic satellites. Even worse, the lack of insurance for heavy-lift boosters makes their development difficult, as without the larger production runs to cover commercial launches, the military cannot afford to buy boosters for its smaller number of launches.--Stephen V Cole

 


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