Japan’s ispace negotiating first commercial moon landing insurance

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TAMPA, Fla. — Japanese lunar lander developer ispace said April 21 it is negotiating the world’s first insurance coverage for a commercial mission to the moon’s surface.

The startup has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance (MSI), a Tokyo-based firm that started working with ispace in 2019, to insure its first attempt to send a lander to the moon later this year.

The agreement outlines intentions to finalize terms for the insurance in the months leading up to ispace’s Mission 1 (M1), which is currently slated to fly on a Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than the fourth quarter of 2022.

According to ispace, the insurance would cover any damage the lander takes between separating from the rocket in a trans-lunar orbit (TLO) and touching down on the moon.

As well as covering a failed landing, the insurance would guard against issues stemming from radiation exposure as the lander travels through the Van Allen belts to its destination.

The Japanese venture is building a lunar transportation business that sells accommodations on its landers to government and commercial customers.

M1 aims to deliver lunar payloads for the UAE-based Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, the Japanese Space Agency JAXA and commercial firms in Japan and Canada.

The insurance package ispace is negotiating with MSI would not cover these payloads.

“As of now, the proposed scheme will cover ispace’s M1 lander,” ispace spokesperson Andrew Ames said.

“However, in the future it may be possible to expand the coverage.”

Ames declined to discuss financial details.

The startup had raised $200 million as of late October, including an investment from Airbus’ venture capital arm. 

ArianeGroup, a joint venture between European aerospace giants Airbus and Safran, is supplying components for M1’s propulsion system and supporting integration and tests at facilities in Germany.

The lander’s propulsion system and structural integration are both complete, ispace said April 21, while electrical integration is ongoing as payloads, external sensors and a rover deployment mechanism are installed. 

“If all continues according to plan, we aim to begin final testing by early June,” the venture said, when “we will transport our lander from the ArianeGroup GmbH facility in Lampoldshausen to an [German engineering company] IABG facility in Ottobrunn near Munich, Germany. 

“At this pace, we plan to ship our lander to Florida by early Autumn for launch preparations.”

The startup expects to become the first privately led Japanese mission to perform a soft landing on the moon. 

U.S.-based startup Intuitive Machines is also attempting to send its first lander to the moon this year. 

A spokesperson for Intuitive Machines, which until recently had been preparing to launch its IM-1 mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 in the first quarter of 2022, told SpaceNews April 19 that the venture intends to announce a new launch window “soon.”

Intuitive Machines declined to comment on whether it was looking to insure its mission.

While ispace appears set to become the first commercial company to insure a moon landing, an insurance source said governments have previously secured coverage for lunar missions.