Now that we know the results of the latest spaceX launch (ka-boom), who (directly, and economically) pays for that rocket?

NASA and spaceX have a contract for a fixed number of launches, does it include any stipulations regarding failure? (Aka, did NASA pay for the rocket that exploded, or does spaceX owe them another one?)

Rockets are expensive. Are they commonly insured? (Aka: is it some random insurance company that is paying for this, or does this come directly out of NASA/spaceX pocket?)

  • $\begingroup$ This is partly already discussed in How much of a commercial space launch can be insured? (motivation for the question was the Orb-3 failure) $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 14:58
  • $\begingroup$ I'm afraid this question cannot be answered without reading the contract, and understanding how a type of damage is managed. Before answering "who pays', you must understand "what is a damage" in the context of this contract (direct damages, indirect damages, per-qualified damages), and how are defined the limitation of liability, force majeure, etc. The exact Terms and Conditions need to be known. T&Cs may refine, or change the scope of the law. The customer may sometime asks for solution elements to be changed, under their responsibility, there are many unknowns like this. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 18:51

2 Answers 2


The CRS contract pays upon delivery. Cygnus and Dragon both failed to deliver on their last missions. They do not get paid for those flights. These are no longer development contracts, they are contracts for delivery.

Then they get to negotiate with NASA as to how to proceed. Do they repeat the mission? Do they consolidate into fewer heavier launches (Which is what Orbital with Cygnus on Atlas V will do)? Do they do fewer launches and not get paid for the missed flight?

As for insurance, that is up to the vendor. Does Russia insure their launches? Did SpaceX? Did Cygnus? Do they self insure?

Who pays for the lost IDA and other experiments? All good questions.

  • $\begingroup$ Is there some Incoterm standards for spaceflight, concerning how the risk transits between the transporter to the customer? Or is it generally negotiated ad hoc? $\endgroup$
    – LocalFluff
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 14:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hmm, this answer contradicts a statement in another question's answer. "However, the contract awarded to SpaceX by NASA, like most launch contracts, is based on launch attempts not successes. Since SpaceX successfully got the payload off of the pad, they will still get paid." Is that correct or is this correct? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ It's much more complicated than either answer. The contracts pay both SpaceX and Orbital for development, test launches, as well as payments for delivery (and, I presume, down mass from SpaceX). The contracts negotiated with the companies are likely not publicly available, so the question cannot be fully answered here. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Adler
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkAdler The original COTS contracts were for development. But once they went into CRS it was a different contract, just paying for flights was the way I have understood it. $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ fwiw, as a rule, Russians do insure their launches. The Proton launch with the Mexican satellite which failed in May was insured by the Mexicans (the satellite itself) and Roscosmos (third party liability), with total coverage of something like $400M $\endgroup$
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 23:27

The company that launched the rocket pays for the cost of the rocket, as geoffc said.

As for the payload, it seems likely that those who provided the items have the choice of what to do. They can insure it, otherwise they are held accountable. This is why NASA does in fact have a say about the launch of their rockets.


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