Commercial satellite launches in the third quarter of 2009 generated $154.6 million in premiums for space insurance underwriters, a harvest that makes it all but certain that the space insurance market will report a gross profit of more than $400 million for 2009, according to space-insurance broker Aon/ISB of London. A DirecTV television-broadcast satellite, scheduled for launch by an International Launch Services Proton rocket, is the only large insurance risk yet to occur for the year.

Aon/ISB Space Business Unit Leader Clive Smith said Aon/ISB has captured nearly 50 percent of the global space insurance brokerage business for the past two years when measured in the number of satellites. Aon/ISB estimates that underwriters have booked more than $800 million in premiums against losses totaling $400 million to $450 million in 2009.

In a Dec. 2 interview, Smith said Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket continues to benefit from slightly lower insurance premiums than the International Launch Services Proton vehicle, but that the spread is narrowing between the two vehicles as Proton notches up successes.

China’s Long March 3B rocket, which underperformed in a commercial launch in August, likely will not be penalized with sharply higher premium rates because its operators appear to have determined the cause of the problem, he said. The insurance market’s total capacity, which has increased in 2009 as new underwriters have entered the market, is about $735 million. Assembling an insurance package of more than $500 million for a single Ariane 5 launch of two telecommunications satellites, he said, is easily accommodated in the current market, Smith said.