Covering Canada’s first spaceport

Covering Canada’s first spaceport | Insurance Business Canada

Covering Canada’s first spaceport

Satellites will boldly launch into orbit from Canada for the first time in 2020 when the country’s first spaceport commences operations from the tiny fishing village of Canso, Nova Scotia.

According to plans from Maritime Launch Services Ltd., the 400-year-old town, made up of 500 people, will host launches of Ukraine-made Cyclone 4M rockets carrying commercial satellites into orbit. The town was chosen for its unique geographic location, the deep point of a sizeable cove with most of the North Atlantic as its backyard, and its proximity quality infrastructure.

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Maritime Launch Services Ltd. is based in Halifax but is a venture of 14 American companies who chose Canso out of 14 other North American locations and plan on constructing a rocket launch pad and a command centre.

All of this is putting stars in the eyes of space enthusiasts, catching the skeptical eye of local residents and giving insurers an opportunity.

One provider who’s covered the Cyclone 4M rockets is XL Catlin and their head of head of space underwriting, Chris Kunstadter, said everything from the payload to third party liability is available.

“There have been a few accidents at launch sites in the past five years, where either during preparations for launch or immediately after launch there has been damage to property in and around the launch space. It’s obviously not a trivial risk,” Kunstadter said.

Kunstadter explained that each country develops its own launch licenses that include Maximum Probable Losses - and the operator must provide proof of their insurance capability to cover those losses.

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Though Kunstadter mentioned Canada has previously launched rockets for atmospheric testing from the coast of Hudson’s Bay, this project will mark the first time Canada is liable for space-bound ships.

“Under The Outer Space Treaty, founded in 1967, the responsibility for any accident for a rocket with a satellite is the responsibility of the country from which it was launched,” Kunstadter said. “So if you have an American satellite on a Russian rocket built by a French company, launched from Canada, then ultimately, despite all of those other involvements, the Canadian government is responsible.”

The many moving parts of constructing satellites, rockets, running a launch operation and designing the whole feat of final frontier-trekking, means each stage of space exploration needs coverage.

“It’s a different type of risk,” Kunstadter explained. “When you’re dealing with something sitting on the ground, the explosive capability of it is limited by the fact that you’re on the ground and it’s a well-protected, remote area; whereas once you lift off you may have a potential area that can be affected. Once the launch vehicle gets up into a very low orbit, if there’s a failure, it shouldn’t cause damage on the ground because it will burn up before it hits the ground.”

Environmental impact studies, and other regulatory analysis by the Canadian government, will determine what standards Maritime Launch Services Ltd. needs to meet - and the company’s CEO, John Isella, promised not to send satellites into space during lobster season.

Liabilities for the impact on nearby regions of Nova Scotia, and indeed the world, are all part of the space insurance equation.

“There are several types of insurance that apply, typically,” Kunstadter said. “Up until the moment of launch the responsibility of the launch vehicle is with the launch operator in terms of damage to property and third party liability, and after the launch the operator will be responsible. In both those cases the launch operator will procure operators’ insurance.”