NUT Desk- Launching one of the richest individuals on earth into orbit has proved a leap too far for insurers, who are not ready to price the risk of losing Jeff Bezos or his fellow space travelers.
Amazon CEO Bezos, a lifelong space enthusiast, has been vying with Elon Musk and Richard Branson to become the first billionaire to fly beyond the earth’s atmosphere.
And while insurers are well known for offering cover for even the most outlandish of risks, at a price, potential accidents in space are not yet among them.
“Space tourism involves significant risk, but is not an issue life insurers specifically ask about as yet because it is so rare for anyone to travel into space,” Insurance Information Institute (III) spokesperson Michael Barry said.
There is a nearly $500 million market to insure satellites, rockets and unmanned space flight, but no legal requirement for an operator such as Blue Origin, which Bezos founded, to insure passengers for injury or death or for space tourists to have life cover, brokers and insurers said.
“We’re not aware of a case where anybody is insured against passenger liability,” Neil Stevens, senior vice president, aviation and space at Marsh, the world’s biggest insurance broker, told Reuters.
Assuming they lift-off as planned next month, Bezos and the other wannabe astronauts on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft will not only spend several minutes 62 miles (100 km) above the earth in a truck-sized capsule, they also have to get back.
The only group that has regularly flown humans sub-orbitally since the 1960s is Branson’s Virgin Galactic. All have been tests, with one failure in 2014 resulting in a death. Blue Origin has flown 15 unmanned sub-orbital flights with no failures, Seradata SpaceTrak data showed on June 10.
Bezos, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic did not respond to requests for comment from Reuters on their insurance plans and flight records.
Being uninsured in space is nothing new.
NASA and the U.S., in general, do not buy liability cover, with government launches basically insured by taxpayers, Richard Parker of Assure Space, a unit of insurer AmTrust Financial that provides space insurance, said.
NASA astronauts are eligible for government life insurance programs, a NASA spokesperson said in an emailed response.
Charles Wetton, underwriting manager for space policies at insurer Global Aerospace, said astronauts on government-funded missions are carefully selected for their knowledge, skills and fitness and train for several years before blast off.
“They and their families understand the risks of the work they do, Wetton said.
But commercial space cadets may only get a few days of training for a sub-orbital flight or a few months for a ride to the International Space Station (ISS), Wetton said, adding: “These represent two very different risk profiles that insurers will take into account”.