Denis Bensoussan, senior underwriter for space risks at Hiscox Lloyd’s Syndicate, assesses the vulnerability of satellites to space debris.
Speaking on the vulnerability of satellites to space debris risk, Denis Bensoussan says, “Satellites are a potential casualty of the rapidly altering environment of earth’s orbit. The question is – how much of the danger is stuff of myth and how much is the danger based on reality.
“There are two facts that are employed to assess the vulnerability of satellites to space debris. Firstly, the impact probabilities for satellites and the assessment of damage caused by impact from space debris.”
Referring to the Revus (Reducing the vulnerability of space systems) project that is led by Astrium SAS with eight additional partners, he says, “There were eight major impacts on LEO satellites since 1991, three involving active satellites. All the events were unavoidable and while there were no reported events in GEO, there was a recent increase in conjunction alerts. The average current risk of collision at GEO is one every 135 years and the risk for active satellites is one every 155 years.
“For satellites in LEO, the probability that any given satellite at 800-900 kms will be hit by debris larger than one cm is approaching 3% over a five to 10-year lifetime (est. NASA).
“The probabilities of impact/damage remain very low for dangerous debris and the failure risk due to debris impact remains a substantially lower probability than risks of launcher or satellite mechanical failure.”
The risk of collision was not a severe worry for insurers until recently, says Bensoussan. “However stakes are rising and if frequency of incidents increases, insurance premiums are likely to rise. The Iridium collision, in 2009, revealed a worrying situation.
“The current scenarios do not monitor or measure this risk while damages and consequences might be catastrophic .The general risk of satellites’ loss of control related to debris impact or even space weather, needs to be considered.”