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Insurers suffer a setback as Measat abandons a drifting satellite

Malaysian operator Measat intends to de-orbit Measat-3 after failure to return it to service, and satellite insurers are ready for a claim worth $45 million. Despite sustaining continuous command control and telemetry since an irregularity first surfaced on June 21, Measat said on Aug. 6 that it had been unable to salvage the aging satellite. The operator and the manufacturer of the Measat-3, Boeing, are still looking into the occurrence.

The malfunction caused the spaceship to move westward out of its orbital slot (91.5 East) in geostationary orbit, according to space tracking firm ExoAnalytic Solutions. Measat-3, which was launched in December 2006 on the Russian Proton rocket, was coming towards the completion of its 15-year life span.

The amount of fuel aboard, which is required for the many movements required to stay in the orbital slot it belongs, is the primary limiting aspect in the satellite’s life with the chemical propulsion. Satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) frequently have enough propellant to exceed their original design life forecasts. According to insurance sources, Measat-3 fell short of fuel sooner than predicted.

The operator “expected they would get another two years out of it,” according to one underwriter, adding that there is sufficient fuel left to take the spacecraft to cemetery orbit but not enough to keep its telecoms and broadcast services running. “We assume they will make an insurance claim, although we don’t know for sure,” the person said, “and the claim will be predicated on the notion that they believed they had much more fuel than they did.”

Measat stated that Measat-3 was covered by insurance but refused to comment on the policy. Before extending its in-orbit insurance cover for another year, the Malaysian company would have had to provide insurers with a health report on Measat-3, such as how much fuel it contains. An insurance claim from the Measat company reported to be in the neighborhood of $45 million would put insurers further in the red.

According to insurance sources reached by SpaceNews, the overall sum of claims thus far, including Measat’s prospective claim, is roughly $312 million, compared to an overall market premium of around $238 million. The other major loss for the insurers so far in the year 2021 is a $225 million claim related to difficulties with the Maxar Technologies-manufactured SXM-7 satellite.

If there are any more in-orbit satellite or deployment mishaps, the space insurance sector is on track to generate around $500 million in overall premium this year, positioning it at danger of another annual loss. As per data from insurance provider AXA XL, space insurers paid out roughly $431 million in claims. This was in the year 2020. Even though the entire market premium was around $452 million, the sector sees 2020 as a year of loss-making from salaries and other costs.

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