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NASA Once Considered Insuring the International Space Station

In 2001, NASA met with an insurance broker to discuss insurance options for the most expensive structure ever built, documents show.
​Image: NASA

​The International Space Station is believed to be the most expensive structure ever built by mankind. It's also relatively fragile, what with the pieces of space junk hurtling at it, spacecraft regularly docking with it, and magnetic storms from solar flares heading its way every now and then. Given those two facts, it's not surprising that the ISS has no insurance policy.

But NASA has at least looked into the idea of insuring the massive orbital structure. According to documents unearthed by Government Attic using a Freedom of Information Act request, NASA met with a company called International Space Brokers way back in 2001 about insuring the ISS.


International Space Brokers is not an insurance company—as the name suggests, it is a broker that works with various space insurance companies to sell policies to commercial entities and governments. Normally, this involves insuring things such as commercial satellites and launches.

Screengrab: Government Attic

The Powerpoint presentation noted that insuring the entire ISS is unfeasible: There's no one company that could cover the ISS (the US alone has spent more than $75 billion on the international project). In fact, there's probably not enough insuring power in dozens of companies combined to do that. But ISB noted that liability insurance "is an option."

NASA astronaut contracts generally have limits on life insurance benefits, but if, say, the ISS were to be destroyed somehow and the pieces of it were to break up and destroy private property in space, liability insurance would be a good thing to have.

"An example would be a launch vehicle exploding and injuring or killing people downrange," ISB wrote. "Liability insurance would protect the insured from the lawsuits that would inevitably follow."

ISB also noted that insurance could make sense for "high value property" that was on the ISS.

Unfortunately, we don't know exactly what was discussed in the meeting or how far along the discussions got. A spokesperson for NASA told me earlier this week that "tracking down people who were in a meeting 14 years ago is hard" and was unable to find anyone who could elaborate for me. She mentioned that the ISS is, after all, an international mission and said that complicates any potential insurance the agency would buy.


ISB did not respond to my request for comment.

Screengrab: Government Attic

Generally, NASA operates its missions without insurance. According to the presentation, NASA "bore risk of loss for government property" because insurance markets can't usually handle the expense of its missions and because NASA is "self-insured" in that it simply plans on there being losses.

"The government does not purchase commercial insurance," a NASA spokesperson told me.

Last year, the Antares rocket ISS resupply mission exploded on the launch pad. At least $50 million of that $200 million mission was insured, and NASA requires that commercial operators have insurance before flying to the ISS. NASA also requires that commercial contractors waive any liability claims they may have against NASA in the event of a disaster relating to the ISS.

So, no insurance on the ISS, but it's at least interesting that the agency once looked into the possibility.