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Government Space The Almighty Buck Science Technology

Could Insurance Coverage Hobble Commercial Space Flights? 169

coondoggie writes "Should the government continue to share the monetary risk of a catastrophic spacecraft accident even as the United States depends ever-more on commercial space technology? The question is one currently up for debate as the program that currently insures space launches, the Federal Aviation Administration's 'indemnification' risk-sharing authority, which can provide a maximum of $2.7 billion of insurance per launch, expires at the end of the year. According to the Government Accountability Office a catastrophic commercial launch accident could result in injuries or property damage to the uninvolved public, or 'third parties.' In anticipation of such an event, a launch company must purchase a fixed amount of insurance for each launch, per calculation by FAA; the federal government is potentially liable for claims above that amount up about $2.7 billion."
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Could Insurance Coverage Hobble Commercial Space Flights?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @07:28PM (#40251207)

    I would say you cant call it commercial space flight until it funds itself privately.

  • One word (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <<moc.oohay> <ta> <dnaltropnidad>> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @07:34PM (#40251259) Homepage Journal


  • Three truths (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Caerdwyn ( 829058 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @07:41PM (#40251327) Journal

    1. Space is risky. If you are going to go there, or benefit from going there (do you like having satellites able to inform where the hurricane is going to make landfall?) you are going to participate in that risk.

    2. Sometimes, risk is imposed and you don't get an opt-out. The world is not made of Nerf. Neither are satellites or boost systems. You don't get to vote on this, otherwise we sink to the level of the loudest coward.

    3. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is a greater threat to a country's ability to achieve great things than its lawyers and those who would employ them to their own benefit without regard to the costs to us all.

    Life involves risk. Wear a helmet... unless you're a tort lawyer.

  • by GoodNewsJimDotCom ( 2244874 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @07:44PM (#40251345)
    It is a joke that if you open a skate park, and someone gets hurt, brings drugs, a weapon, or threatens someone that you get sued so hard you can lose your property. I love the USA, but you don't have a lot of private individuals opening their property for people to ride motorcycles or just chill outside with free concerts. Also car insurance is a big scam because of liability. You can buy a used car every 4 years at even the low rates of car insurance. Car insurance certainly isn't there to keep you on the road. Ski resorts get sued when someone falls down in even ordinary skiing conditions. The only reason ski resorts stay open is that they need to make more money than they lose in lawsuits. You don't have to agree with me on this one, but I think liability needs drastically reformed, and it has been this way for over 100 years..
  • Re:One word (Score:5, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:07PM (#40251477)
    Is there a comprehensive list of problems deregulation has solved? If so, does it start and end with "The shareholders, executive board, lobbyists, and politicians don't have enough money"?
  • Re:Jurisdiction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by slew ( 2918 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:23PM (#40251659)

    For all people speculating about juristiction, please read the Outerspace Treaty (the relavant parts are below).

    Since these launches are from the US and the US signed the treaty, the US is potentally liable for what a non-government (e.g., private) entity does in outer space. Forcing the non-governmental entity launching in a signator's territory to carry sufficient insurance to offset most of the potential liabiity seems like it would always be a likely on-going requirement (by any the 100 or so nation-states who are signators to this treaty including the US).

    Article VI: States Parties to the Treaty shall bear international responsibility for national activities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, whether such activities are carried on by governmental agencies or by non-governmental entities, and for assuring that national activities are carried out in conformity with the provisions set forth in the present Treaty. The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty. When activities are carried on in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, by an international organization, responsibility for compliance with this Treaty shall be borne both by the international organization and by the States Parties to the Treaty participating in such organization.

    Article VII: Each State Party to the Treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and each State Party from whose territory or facility an object is launched, is internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air space or in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies.

  • It seems.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:34PM (#40252211)

    It seems that if commercial space vehicles need the government to cover the risk, then they aren't really commercial. Commercial space ventures should pay their own way, including insuring against catastrophic failure. If that makes the commercial endeavour too expensive, then the market would dictate that commercial space ventures aren't feasible and it should be left to the government. That might not be what people want to hear, but if the private sector really can't do it cheaper than the government, then the government should do it.

The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. -- John Kenneth Galbraith