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I know that commercial satellite missions have insurance, but will they cover the same thing for manned missions? Has there been any sort of publication talking about this sort of thing?

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  • $\begingroup$ Depending on the legal jurisdiction, I would guess they would require a combination of insurance and waivers as rocketry and space travel may be absolute liability activities that are inherently dangerous from an insurance and legal perspective. (Much like many adrenaline sports and other dangerous hobbies) Insurance companies need a combination of limits and sufficient actuarial data to provide coverage. $\endgroup$ – Dan Sorensen May 22 '18 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ As for publication, I don't know, but I hope I provided some additional terms to search on the topic. It is an interesting question. $\endgroup$ – Dan Sorensen May 22 '18 at 2:33
  • $\begingroup$ The concept of at least partial indemnification for private companies bold enough to perform manned launches from American soil is one that should be robustly explored/considered by the federal government. Wisely done, I'm thinkin' it would be a fine use of public funds. $\endgroup$ – Digger May 22 '18 at 19:18
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So obviously some of this is going to vary by jurisdiction, and none of it is really worked out yet, but here is where things stand.

There are various kinds of insurance. The first kind is insurance to cover loss; this is what satellite owners get, for example, to cover themselves in case their satellite is destroyed during a failed launch. Second would be liability insurance. That is, insurance to cover damages you might cause to someone else. We'll need to address those two kinds of insurance separately.

Generally speaking, current requirements for insurance are minimal. The FAA requires U.S. launchers to get liability insurance that covers the launch and first few months of the operation of a satellite, but nothing beyond that. That's right: there is no requirement of liability insurance beyond about 90 days. Under the Outer Space Treaty, ultimate responsibility for paying damages rests with the launching state (the country itself, even for commercial things), so if we're talking about a U.S. origin launch, eventually it is the U.S. Government that essentially "insures" against liability.

As far as insurance against loss, that's up to individual operators.

So that's how things are now. For newly-contemplated space activities, such as commercial human spaceflight, on-orbit servicing, etc., there is not a well-developed insurance market at all because of an almost total lack of actuarial data. The ultimate government backstopping provided by the Outer Space Treaty also decreases the incentive for private insurance.

Eventually, someday, launching states are going to want to require insurance by commercial companies so that they won't be putting their own taxpayers on the hook, but that will impose costs, and there is the risk of chasing operators away to jurisdictions that are willing to require less.

So that doesn't totally answer your question I'm afraid, but it's because the best answer is something like "yeah that's a good question."

As far as a paper on this, I know there have been a few symposia and things of that nature. https://www.scor.com/en/media/news-press-releases/overview-space-insurance seems to provide some information as well.

Edit: I should also say that individual states (Here I mean federal states within the United States, such as California, not states in the international sense) could certainly impose additional requirements on companies operating out of their territory.

Finally, to answer the very specific question about liability for potential harm that might come to commercial passengers, I anticipate that being handled through waivers for some time, with eventually some liability insurance to cover operators, but again, there is no actuarial data for this, so it's not really available now. Presumably you could throw enough money at an insurance company that they would give you a policy, but at that point you might as well just self-insure (simplified idea: keep a pot of money set aside to pay claims).

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