Spacecraft debris set to collide with earth - who will be covered?

Space debris, including a Russian spacecraft “has nowhere else to go” but crash into earth. Here’s a look at what typically gets covered.

In a 1968 episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, the starship USS Enterprise needs to touch down on earth in order for Captain Kirk and First Officer Stock to complete a terrestrial assignment.
While this account of starship Enterprise was merely the work of Hollywood science fiction, it does not stray too far from actual events happening today. In fact, the Russian space agency Roscosmos has recently announced that a 7-meter spacecraft traveling faster than 16,000 miles per hour “has nowhere else to go” but crash into earth, according to the Guardian.
Such cases of falling space wreckage is not unusual. In fact, researchers around the world agree that the earth’s orbit is “littered with debris,” including 31,000 objects 10cm or larger, 500,000 objects between 1 and 10cm and 100 million items of space junk smaller than 1cm, according to NORAD and NASA assessments.
In 2013, approximately 120 tons of these materials crashed onto Earth – the equivalent of 40 elephants, reports German insurer Allianz.
“Since the beginning of the space story, the amount of debris orbiting the Earth has grown and it’s now very high,” said Ludovic Arnoux, Aviation and Space Underwriter at Allianz Global Corporate & Speciality, in a report called Space Risks: A generation of challenges.
Costs ensuing from rapidly descending space junk are beginning to accrue, because of damages sustained on earth and on behalf of satellites and other functional spacecraft operating in orbit.  For example, a paint fleck that collided with the Space Shuttle Challenger resulted in $50,000 of repair costs, and Russia once paid $3 million to Canada to aid in the cleanup efforts of its fallen Kosmos 954.
Would civilians be covered in related cases of injury and damage?
According to State Farm, most homeowner policies would cover these claims as an “accidental direct physical loss,” as would comprehensive auto policies. If the policyholder only had collision or lesser forms of insurance on their vehicles, however, their claims would likely be dismissed.
Other insurers, such as the U.S-based UIG, offer a lifetime of “Space Debris coverage” that protects against falling wrenches, flag poles and toilets for a one time only fee. 
As for sophisticated spacecraft, those require their own policies to be purchased by companies and federal agencies. These policies can include launch and in-orbit insurance, which protects the spacecraft itself, or third party liability, which covers damage and injury resulting from a collision. Swiss Re values the space insurance market at $20 billion.
Outside of protecting themselves, space underwriter Arnoux believes that international entities should work together to minimize future risks as much as possible.
“For now, the risk is still acceptable, but we must pay attention because we know that if nothing is done, it could become catastrophic,” he said.


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