Argentina’s 1st Domestic Satellites Protected by ‘Launch Plus Life’ Insurance Plan

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PARIS — The first telecommunications satellite assembled and tested in Argentina, and also the first operated from there, is subject to an unusual insurance policy that covers, in part, the satellite’s in-orbit performance for its full 15-year life, insurance industry officials said.

An identical policy has been purchased for a second Argentine telecommunications spacecraft, ArSat-2, scheduled for launch in 2015. ArSat-1 was launched Oct. 16 and is healthy in orbit.

Each of the two ArSat satellites has been insured for about $230 million, a figure that covers the launches, both aboard European Ariane 5 rockets, and various stages of the satellites’ in-orbit performance.

ArSat’s insurance broker, Aon International Space Brokers (ISB), said the coverage is divided into three tranches. One is the classic launch-plus-one-year policy. A second covers the launch plus an intermediate period of several years. The third covers the full scheduled 15-year service life.

Aon ISB Chairman Thierry Mangot said the fact that the market, led by veteran insurers including Munich Re and Swiss Re, would agree to provide coverage for 15 years for a satellite platform that had never flown illustrates how well ArSat prepared the market for the launch.

Christian Barnabe of Aon ISB said that while Argentine insurer Nacion Seguros is one of the underwriters joining the overall ArSat insurance package, its role is not preponderant. The policy, he said, offers an overall premium of less than 10 percent including the 15-year tranche.

The state-owned INVAP of Argentina performed assembly, integration and test chores on ArSat-1, which was launched Oct. 16 and is in good health in orbit. It is also from Argentina that the satellite’s LEOP — launch and early orbit phase — was performed, in what ArSat said is a first for a telecommunications satellite in Latin America.

Airbus Defence and Space of France and Germany, and Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, both had significant roles in providing ArSat many of the components for the satellite’s platform as well as the electronics payload.

“It is a new platform but the fact that the components from the European side were well-proven did help allay insurers’ concerns,” one insurance industry official said.

Most satellites carrying insurance purchase policies covering the launch plus one year in orbit, which is statistically the most dangerous period for a satellite. After that, the satellite fleet operator may purchase annual in-orbit insurance, which today costs less than 1 percent per year of the insured value, to protect against component failures.

That means each year, the operator, through its insurance broker, must stitch together whatever number of underwriters is needed to cover the full insured value.

ArSat and Aon ISB elected to seek a 15-year coverage to avoid that, and also to avoid having “exclusions” placed on certain satellite components that are found to have had trouble in orbit, either on ArSat or on a similar telecommunications satellite.

The 15-year policy means that for this piece of the ArSat policy, there will be no exclusions added by underwriters for the satellite’s full 15-year life.

That is the advantage for ArSat. The disadvantage is that this piece of the policy carries with it an implied annual in-orbit insurance policy that ArSat will pay for even in the event of an in-orbit failure in the satellite’s first year in orbit.

“The innovative insurance product ‘Launch plus Life’ will provide ArSat with cover for the full commercial life of their satellites and reflects Munich Re’s trust, both in the quality and reliability of the satellites, but also in the operator ArSat itself,” Hendrik Baumann, a member of Munich Re’s space department, said in an Oct. 21 statement.

Xavier Albert-Lebrun from underwriter elseco of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Charles Wetton from Swiss Re made similar statements, saying ArSat and INVAP provided full transparency into the satellite’s production processes and fully addressed insurers’ concerns.

The space insurance market is generally viewed as going through a period of low premiums and plentiful capacity after several years of profitable underwriting results. Several high-profile satellite failure claims in 2013 made it a year of little profit for underwriters.

The year 2014 looks to be no better.

The recent indication that ABS of Bermuda and its customer and partner, GTSS of Luxembourg, will be filing a $200 million claim for a damaged beam on the ABS-2 satellite, coupled with earlier claims by Hispasat of Spain for Amazonas 4A and Russian Satellite Communications Co. of Moscow for the loss of Express-AM4R, together with other claims could wipe out insurers’ premium volume for the year.