Insurance claim for failed Measat-3 satellite in dispute

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TAMPA, Fla. —  An insurance claim for a Malaysian satellite that ran out of fuel prematurely remains unsettled more than a year after the incident.

Some underwriters are disputing Malaysian satellite operator Measat’s $45 million claim to recover losses from Measat-3, an insurance source said, while others have agreed to pay out.

Although many space insurance claims are settled within months — after a straightforward rocket explosion, for instance — it can take years following an incident in orbit when the cause of failure is initially unclear.

“We were sitting there saying, hey, is this legit … how do you just run out of gas?”, an underwriter said.

But while that underwriter said Measat and Boeing, Measat-3’s manufacturer, were ultimately able to provide analysis showing a valid insurance claim, other underwriters remain unconvinced.

“Fuel left in the tank was miscalculated” in the latest health report given to insurers to decide whether to renew Measat-3’s in-orbit coverage, according to another underwriter.

“At this stage, we do not think there should be a claim,” the person said, because information  underwriters received before they agreed to extend insurance coverage at the end of 2020 for another year was “erroneous.”

Since each insurer acts for their own share of a satellite’s insurance coverage, those that agree to a claim pay their share while those contesting it end up in arbitration. 

Measat-3 suffered a complete outage of services in mid-2022 after losing fuel earlier than its operator expected.

Although Measat-3 did not have sufficient fuel to continue providing broadcast and telecoms services, enough remained to push it out of geostationary orbit (GEO) several weeks later when Measat gave up on trying to revive the satellite.

It is unclear what was behind the disparity in Measat-3’s expected fuel reserves. 

Launched in December 2006, Measat-3 was nearing the end of its 15-year design life at the time. However, GEO satellites routinely have enough fuel to outlive this initial projection.

Last year, an underwriter told SpaceNews that Measat had expected to get another two years of operations out of the satellite.

A $45 million claim for the incident is “very much not settled,” another insurance source said Aug. 1, adding that it is unlikely to be resolved in the near term.

Measat spokesperson Shawna Felicia said the company is “not able to comment on the insurance policy” for Measat-3.

Joshua Barrett, a spokesperson for Boeing Boeing Defense, Space and Security, said Measat-3 was retired “following a premature depletion of propellant that was unique to this more than decade-old satellite.”

Barrett said the satellite, which was based on Boeing’s 601HP design, was positioned “to a safe, end-of-life disposal orbit.” 

Boeing declined to comment further.

Measat-3 made it less than halfway to a graveyard orbit 300 kilometers above the geostationary belt during de-orbit maneuvers last September, according to space-tracking firm ExoAnalytic Solutions. 

However, ExoAnalytic Solutions CEO Doug Hendrix said the satellite’s perigee of 138 kilometers above the geostationary belt “puts it reasonably out of harm’s way.”

Measat did not mention Measat-3 in a July 22 news release announcing that Measat-3d, its successor, had entered service after passing in-orbit tests. 

Measat-3d was built for Measat by Airbus Defense and Space under a 2019 contract as a replacement for Measat-3 and Measat-3a, an Orbital Sciences-built satellite launched in 2009.

Measat-3a “is operating nominally,” Felicia told SpaceNews in an Aug. 1 email.

Arianespace launched Measat-3d June 22 on an Ariane 5 rocket to replace and expand Measat’s coverage over Asia Pacific at 91.5 degrees East, where Measat-3a and Measat-3b are also located.

Measat-3d carries C-band and Ku-band transponders for satellite TV services in Asia Pacific, and a high-throughput Ka-band payload for high-speed broadband in Malaysia. 

The satellite also has a Q-band and V-band payload for studying radio frequency propagation in high rainfall regions such as Malaysia, which Measat says will provide insights for developing its future satellites.