Astranis unveils insurance package for Falcon Heavy launch

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TAMPA, Fla. — Startup Astranis unveiled more details Dec. 14 of the insurance package covering its first commercial small satellite, which SpaceX is slated to launch to geostationary orbit (GEO) as a secondary payload on a Falcon Heavy rocket next spring.

The insurance covers the launch plus one year of satellite operations, Astranis CEO John Gedmark announced at World Satellite Business Week in Paris.

“This is the first time a new satellite from a new space company has ever secured this kind of insurance policy,” Gedmark said in a statement.

Gedmark declined to elaborate when he told SpaceNews that the launch would be insured back in September, when Astranis announced plans to use Falcon Heavy instead of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 workhorse.

Details of the insurance package come after the Arcturus (also known as Aurora 4A) satellite, which Astranis will lease to U.S.-based telco Pacific Dataport Inc (PDI) for broadband coverage over Alaska, successfully completed thermal vacuum tests and technical reviews.

The policy was brokered through Willis Towers Watson, which declined to comment.

An industry source said the insurance coverage is worth $40 million, priced at a rate in the “mid-teens.”

The insurance rate is likely higher than what Astranis would have got with a Falcon 9, because the Falcon Heavy has only flown three times — albeit successfully.

The Space Test Program 2 mission in June 2019 was also the last Falcon Heavy mission, after two U.S. Space Force missions rockets that had been scheduled to use the rockets in 2021 slipped into next year.

SpaceX, which is also planning to launch ViaSat-3 for satellite broadband operator Viasat on a Falcon Heavy early next year, did not respond to a request for comment.

According to Gedmark, switching to Falcon Heavy for a direct-inject mission was opportunistic, enabling Arcturus to arrive at its orbital slot within days of liftoff, instead of months of orbit-raising from highly elliptical geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) with a Falcon 9.

He declined to discuss financial details about its insurance package, but said Astranis is planning to insure all the spacecraft it ships for customers.

The San Francisco-based company is currently building two satellites for U.S.-based in-flight connectivity specialist Anuvu, and one recently announced for cellular backhaul provider Andesat that is dedicated to Peru.

“Securing this kind of on-orbit insurance is really challenging,” Gedmark added.

“The insurance underwriters are making a bet that your satellite will work. A big bet. To get to this point we have undergone extreme levels of technical due diligence. That includes massive numbers of tests, analysis, and verification … I think there’s very very few companies who could get this kind of policy for a first satellite.”

The industry source said Astranis’ launch-plus-one-year-of-operations insurance package is also the first of its kind for a micro GEO satellite, which at around 400 kilograms is much smaller than traditional GEO spacecraft.

Gedmark said Astranis’ software-defined payloads and integrated manufacturer-operator business model called for a creative approach to insuring the Arcturus mission.