by Sian Fisher, Chief Executive Officer of the Chartered Insurance Institute
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, representing a significant turning point for mankind, as we took our “giant leap” into the space age. Since then, space travel has continued to increase in regularity, with more than 300 journeys launched, sending more than 500 people outside of the boundaries of our planet.
At that time in 1969, Neil Armstrong estimated that the Apollo 11 landing mission only had a 50% chance of a successful landing, as the Saturn V rocket left the Kennedy Space Center with thousands of litres of kerosene and over a million litres of liquid oxygen on board.
Not surprisingly, few life insurers were willing to offer competitive or affordable cover. But the profession can’t keep kicking the can down the road. Space tourism could be an achievable and viable opportunity, and soon too. In fact, the first commercial space flight took place in 2001 when Dennis Tito allegedly paid $20 million dollars to become the first outer-space holiday maker. Since then, Virgin Galactic have claimed to have sold 600 tickets for their USS Unity Spacecraft, and the UK Space Agency has begun officially drafting regulations for tourism spaceports in Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands.
When space travel began, the first astronauts found it impossible to secure legitimate life insurance policies, so the crew had to innovate and devised an ingenious solution for the long-term financial security of their families should the worst happen. They autographed countless postal covers, which were stamped at the local post office during each day of the mission and which they felt would become increasingly valuable over time, for the benefit of their families. This was a good idea for the crew of Apollo 11, who enjoyed a relative amount of fame at the time, but this isn’t a reasonable option for ‘Average Joe’ space traveller of the near future. So, what does this mean in insurance terms for the future of space tourism?
Currently, two suborbital space ride firms, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, are theoretically planning to offer to arrange personal accident insurance for their passengers via the established market, but participants will potentially have to pay the premiums themselves.
Under the scheme, the passengers might not be classed as “passengers” in the legal sense, having signed away any liability as part of the deal with the operator, they would possibly become “participants” in the flight. Nevertheless, there is some question about whether such waivers would actually insulate the operator in the event of loss as the families of any lost participant astronauts would not have signed the waiver, and thus could theoretically still sue the operator.
Whilst worldwide travel insurance cover is widely available in 2019, cover for a lunar voyage clearly seems to be a more difficult product to launch.
Our fascination with space seems set to continue, suggesting that there is now a genuine need for either some very specific additions to the standard travel policy in relation to space tourism insurance to cover suborbital trips or room in the market for a new bespoke product to be delivered.