Having been successfully launched by a Proton M/Breeze M rocket on 9 October – along with its MEV co-payload – the Eutelsat 5 West B suffered a fault during deployment to one of its solar arrays (the array is deployed but has a major problem). The fault, if not fixed, is expected to result in a significant loss of capacity, with the potential for the spacecraft to be declared a major insurance loss. Owned by Eutelsat and manufactured by Northrop Grumman, which took over the manufacturer Orbital ATK, the spacecraft has the GeoStar 2.4 bus design. It was insured to a value of €173 million ( US$192.4 million).

Video simulation still of Eutelsat 5 West B. Courtesy: Eutelsat

If there is a major loss, this will be yet another blow to the space insurance market. Loss payouts were already running at over US$250 million more than this year’s expected premium revenues of circa US$400 million, so this potential loss could make the situation significantly worse. Losses in this insurance class have resulted in industry giant Swiss Re leaving Space insurance. Meanwhile, premiums are reported to have doubled.

Comment by David Todd: Even if the Eutelsat 5 West B is declared a total insurance loss, this year will not be the worst on record for space insurance – the years 2000 and 2001 had significantly higher net losses. Nevertheless, the negative 2019 result will be a shock to the system. After a series of “flat years” – excepting the profitable 2016 – this year’s definitive loss has been a wake-up call to the market. At least premium rates are now rising – thus making losing years a little less likely in the future.

Space Insurance Results with Eutelsat 5 West B assumed as a Total Insurance Loss. Courtesy: Seradata SpaceTrak Database

Comment by David Todd: Even if the Eutelsat 5 West B is declared a total insurance loss, this will still not be the worst space insurance market result ever – the years 2000 and 2001 had significantly higher net losses. Nevertheless, the 2019 loss-making result has and will be a shock to the system. After a series of “flat years” – excepting the profitable 2016 year – this year’s definitive loss has been a wake up call to the market. At least premium rates are now rising – thus making losing years a little less likely in the future.