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House Passes Bill Extending Protection for Satellite Launches

Press Release From: House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Posted: Friday, October 8, 2004

image WASHINGTON, D.C. - The House tonight passed, by unanimous consent, a bill (H.R. 5245) to extend the law under which the U.S. government insures companies that launch satellites for damages or deaths sustained by individuals who were not involved in the launch.

The law is due to expire on Dec. 31.  The bill would extend the insurance, known as indemnification, for five years, until Dec. 31, 2009.  The bill, introduced by Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), would also require a study by a non-governmental entity of whether indemnification could be ended without unduly harming U.S. companies, and, if so, how that should be done. 

The indemnification provisions in H.R. 5245 were originally part of a larger bill, H.R. 3752, to make additional changes to the Commercial Space Launch Act.  H.R. 3752 would have set up a new regulatory regime for private human space flight.  The House and Senate are continuing to negotiate a compromise version of that bill. 

Boehlert explained, "We wanted to make sure that satellite launchers would have the insurance protection they need regardless of whether the larger commercial space bill gets signed into law.  I hope we can still get the larger bill done in November, but we must be sure that government insurance continues because it is necessary for U.S. launches to remain competitive right now."

Boehlert added, "I am not convinced, however, that the government needs to provide insurance for this industry forever.  That's why we want a study to understand exactly how the government might end indemnification and what impact that would have on U.S. companies.  That way Congress will have more information when indemnification next expires in 2009." 

Under current law, which H.R. 5245 would extend, satellite launchers must buy private insurance to cover injuries to third parties.  The insurance must cover losses up to the "maximum probable loss" level determined by the government.  The government then indemnifies the launcher for any additional losses up to about $1.5 billion per launch, meaning the government pledges to pay any claims for the private company that exceed the amount covered by private insurance. 

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