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Spaceports Like SpaceX are Clueless About Insurance Requirements, GAO Report Shows

Nov 24, 2016 03:00 AM EST

A new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends the Federal Aviation Administration offer more guidance and assistance to commercial spaceports when it comes to finding the right insurance.

The GAO report, under a provision of the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act signed into law in 2015, was requested following the October 2014 Antares launch failure at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island, Virginia. The incident caused $15 million-worth of damages to the launch site.

The parties involved - Orbital Sciences Corp. and the Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority, which operates MARS -- fought over who was responsible for the incurred damages to the pad. In the end, each paid $5 million dollars, with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) chipping in $5 million dollars more by increasing the price of the existing contract.

Based on the GAO report, which interviewed 9 of the 10 FAA-licensed spaceports, 5 of the 9 spaceports, "reported encountering difficulties in obtaining these kinds of insurance for commercial space launches or expressed concerns about their affordability."

GAO also stated that insurance providers either declined to provide quotations, provided quotations exceeding or similar to the site's launch fees, or included substantial deductibles. Further revealing their confusion and the lack of knowledge on the issue of insurance, the GAO report also mentioned that some spaceport companies were not even sure if they were considered "involved parties" in launches, thus requiring them to obtain insurance, or "third parties" that would be covered by the insurance the launch provider is required to carry under federal law, Space News reports.

The said GAO report was limited only to spaceports licensed by the FAA. It did not include launch sites on federal ranges, such as Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, that can also host commercial launches. On the other hand, the Air Force and SpaceX refused to give details about the extent of the damages in the September 1 SpaceX Falcon 9 pad explosion.

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