FAA required SpaceX to up its insurance for Starhopper test

The FAA’s office that regulates commercial space required SpaceX to increase its insurance coverage for this week’s Starhopper test to $100 million, thirty three times higher than their coverage for the previous Starhopper hops.

Lots of information at the link, though in summary it all makes perfect sense.

There are a number of likely reasons the federal regulator required SpaceX to boost its insurance coverage, says George Nield, a former FAA associate administrator who led its Office of Commercial Space Transportation (OCST) for more than a decade.

One is that Tuesday’s launch took Starhopper hundreds of feet higher than in July; during the prior flight, SpaceX’s vehicle only went about 60 feet (18 meters) up before landing. “The higher you want to go, the more propellant you’re going to have to load, and the more propellant you load, the bigger the boom if it were to explode,” Nield told Business Insider prior to Tuesday’s launch.

More importantly, their Boca Chica launch site is only a mile and a half from a small village of about twenty people, much closer than any other launchpad in the world. How SpaceX will manage this issue should they wish to test fly their fullscale Starship prototype from this site I really do not know. It could be that they won’t, and will confine all test flights to Kennedy, where they are also building a second Starship prototype.

Higher insurance rates for Proton threaten its market viability

Capitalism in space: Because the insurance industry is presently charging significantly more to insure a Proton launch than it charges for Falcon 9 or Ariane 5, the Russian share of the launch market is threatened.

Insurance premiums for launches of International Launch Services’ Russian Proton rocket, which satellite operators and insurers say is a necessary third leg for the commercial market — the SpaceX Falcon 9 and the ArianeGroup Ariane 5 being the other two — total about 12% of the insured value. That compares with 3-4% for Ariane 5 and 4-5% for the Falcon 9.

In dollar terms, that means that ILS customers seeking a $200 million policy covering the the value of the satellite, the launch and the satellite’s first year in orbit, would pay a $24 million premium. The same customer launching the same satellite on Falcon 9 or the Ariane 5 would pay no more than $10 million, and possibly less.

The industry cites the quality control problems experienced by the entire Russian space industry, and Proton in particular, in the past decade for this differential. They say they expect these rates to fall if Proton continues its string of successful launches, now totaling 12 in a row.

The article also includes an interesting interview with Kirk Pysher, the head of International Launch Services (ILS), which handles the commercial launches of Proton for Russia. He mentions the possibility that Russia will self-insure so private customers will no longer have bear the cost of these higher rates, thus making ILS more competitive with SpaceX and ArianeGroup.

I think there is another unstated reason why the insurance company is charging more. In the past five years Russia consolidated its entire aerospace industry into a single corporation, Roscosmos, run by the government. I suspect that insurers do not trust this set-up for being the best vehicle for achieving efficiency and good quality control, and that is why they are still taking a wait-and-see attitude on whether Russia has gotten a handle on the quality control issues that caused so many failures in recent years.

Lockheed Martin announces they will either give a full refund or refly a payload for free if their Atlas rocket fails at launch.

The competition heats up: Lockheed Martin announced on Wednesday that they will either give a full refund or re-fly a payload for free if their Atlas rocket fails at launch.

This means that Lockheed Martin’s customers will no longer have to shop or pay for insurance. Instead, the company is providing it for them free, thus lowering the cost for those customers.

According to insurance executives, the White House is threatening them with “retribution” if they don’t keep silent about the problems Obamacare is causing them.

Fascist thugs: According to insurance executives, the White House is threatening them with “retribution” if they don’t keep silent about the problems Obamacare is causing them.

“What is going on is a behind-the-scenes attempt by the White House to at least keep insurers from publicly criticizing what is happening on this Affordable Care Act rollout,” reports Andrew Griffin of CNN. ”Basically, if you speak out, if you are quoted, you’re going to get a call from the White House, pressure to be quiet.”

According to Griffin’s sources, Bob Laszewski of Health Policy and Strategy Associates – a prominent consultant for insurance companies with a history of criticizing ObamaCare – says he’s getting calls from the executives he works with, asking him to speak out on their behalf, “because they feel defenseless against the White House PR team.”

Laszewski told Griffin, “The White House is exerting massive pressure on the industry, including the trade associations, to keep quiet.” Industry sources confirmed “they fear White House retribution.”

Because of Obamacare, child-only health plans have been discontinued nationwide.

Repeal it: Because of Obamacare, insurance companies nationwide have stopped offering child-only health plans.

Jared Wolfe, executive director of the Texas Association of Health Plans, said it is not because insurers do not want to cover children. The federal health care overhaul [Obamacare], and in particular the pre-existing condition language, has been interpreted to mean that insurers must write a policy for any child who applies, Mr. Wolfe said. That effectively ensures that only sick children will apply for benefits, he said — an unworkable financial scenario for insurance companies.

This happened in New York state back in the 1990s. The state legislature decided to help everyone by mandating that no insurance company could deny insurance to anyone, no matter how sick they were. The result: there was no point buying insurance until you were sick, which meant there was no way the insurance companies could make any profit at all. Instantly the insurance field shrunk, with many companies (including my own) abandoning the state.

But then, who cares? We live in amazing times, when a President can simply order — on his personal authority and without any basis in law — that insurance companies must provide free contraceptives, without anyone having to pay for their manufacture. Who knew what things were possible before Obama was President?