In the last 44 years, since the launch of its maiden satellite Aryabhatta in 1975, Isro has never insured its indigenous space ventures. Two factors are now influencing the space research organisation to revise its stance. The first is the unintended setback in Project Chandrayaan-2, which cost nearly Rs 1,000 crore and second, the success of Isro’s Mars mission, which has brought down reinsurance rates for India’s space exploration. These developments are prompting Isroto talk with insurers for coverage of its future domestic launches (including Chandrayaan-3).
While indigenous launch missions were not insured so far, Isro has since 1982 been insuring all its overseas launches which have been through partnerships with Russia, US etc. The insurers typically have been New India Assurance and the other three other public-sector companies backed by reinsurers.
One of the early claims was in the April 1982 launch of the Indian-US venture INSAT-1A which was launched by a Delta rocket. By September, INSAT-1A’s altitude control propellant was exhausted, and the communications satellite abandoned, resulting in a claim payout of $12 million to Isro.
Later when INSAT-1C and INSAT-2D also died in orbit, insurance was available as a safety net. Of nearly 75 satellites launched by Isro, less than a quarter have been insured – as the organisation till date has not seen any point in insuring domestic launches.
“When it comes to foreign joint ventures – it’s the foreign space agency which usually has insurance as a clause. And that is why Isro compiled and bought insurance. But Chandrayaan-2 now has set the agency rethinking on how to curtail losses in its pursuit of scientific exploration,” said another source.
Previously New India, the sole underwriter of satellite policies in India for Isro, had insured GSAT-21, GSAT-10, INSAT-3D and GSAT-7. It has also covered GSAT-16 launched in December 2014 and the pre-launch expenses of GSAT-15 schedules for 2015 launch. For India’s eleventh communication satellite G-SAT 16 December 2014. New India has covered it up to six months of launch for Rs 341.50 crore.
The insurance of INSAT-1A required the then department of space secretary T N Seshan and New India CMD A C Mukherji to travel to London to conclude reinsurance. The team needed the support of underwriters in both London and the US market to cover the programme. For later programmes, New India reinsured with underwriters in London and Munich. Now, specialist underwriters fly down to India to underwrite Isro’s satellite programmes.