Insuring spacecraft is risky business

Sirius XM latest broadcast satellite appeared functional. It was built on a pretty standard platform that has worked for around 150 communications satellites and post-launch was maneuvered into orbit. After that, however, things seem to have not progressed.

Unable to just wack it on the side like the Fonz, Sirius XM has filed an insurance claim. Apparently one claim is more than the entire industry of spacecraft insurance collects in a year.


In the SEC filing, Sirius XM revealed they purchased a $225 million insurance policy for SXM-7 that covered not only the launch, but the first year of commercial operation. While for many missions it would be enough to get reimbursed for a vehicle that's destroyed during liftoff, this case is a perfect example of why extending that coverage into the spacecraft's operational lifetime can be important when the long-term success of a commercial venture is potentially on the line.

But while that potential insurance payout might be good news for Sirius XM stockholders in the short term, it will ultimately add to an industry-wide problem that's been building for years. With a relatively limited pool of policyholders from which premiums can be collected, insuring spacecraft is an unusually risky proposition. For example, the $410+ million payout that resulted from the loss of a United Arab Emirates military satellite in July 2019 cancelled out the year's premiums for the entire industry.