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Space tourism sector a good opportunity for insurance firms

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BANGALORE (BNS): As space tourism matures, it holds tremendous opportunity for insurance companies to offer risk coverage to those on-board, similar to what they do for passengers of airlines, industry officials said.

At an international conference on space business, organised as part of Bengaluru Space Expo 2010, speakers noted that since Yuri Gagarin's flight in 1961, citizens of 38 countries have flown in space.

To date, most individuals have been astronauts, military personnel and scientists who have been extensively and expensively trained, they said, adding one will also see the emergence of "space tourism" with access to space for private individuals.

Director of ISRO's Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, S Ramakrishnan said apart from satellite and launching sector, personal space flights, space tourism and adventure space tourism are emerging as a possible market for insurance players.

In this context, Ramakrishnan referred to the successful 'Spaceship-I' venture, and the Spaceship-II which is expected to take place shortly.

While these initiatives are currently being catered to "select people who enjoy the spirit of adventure", they are perhaps "sowing the seeds for possible sub-orbital trans-atmospheric passenger and cargo transportation systems with commercial potential in not too distant future".

"It's possible, something we can imagine that", he said at a session on risk management for space ventures.

Ramakrishnan also pointed to the change in policy direction in USA-NASA in handing over earth orbit transportation sector to private sector, which has also been taking separate initiatives in this regard.

"...as space tourism matures into personal space transportation system, one can foresee like what happened in beginning of the airline business (when insurance players started offering insurance cover for passengers). Here (space sector) also, one can talk about even personal flight coverage..", he said.

Speaking on risk and insurance solutions for space ventures in the 21st century, Executive Vice-President of ISB, Tim Wakeman said within India, the space industry is thriving, contributing around Rs 10,000 crore per annum to the Indian economy.

He said its good time to buy insurance for spacecraft as market conditions are favourable with premium rates on the decline and availability of insurance capacity is three-four times the demand.

While space ventures promise an evolving sector with huge returns, the execution risks are far too high.

Risk elements involved in space sector are related to technological, industrial, commercial, financial, legal and in particular insurance. The time is ripe to share the risks/returns with other stakeholders who wish to enter space business including ventural capitalists, insurance companies and individuals, officials said.

Officials said despite the recent economic situation, the global space industry remains robust, noting the US' decision to emphasise commercial resupply of the International Space Station and reallocation of fiscal resources from Space Shuttle/manned space to earth observations and exploration.

Tom Captain, Vice-Chairman, Deloitte LLP, Global Aerospace & Defence Sector Leader, said India?s space industry is registering explosive growth, with many opportunities for indigenous and foreign suppliers to help further develop the country?s communications and positioning, among other things.

A CII-Antrix-Deloitte report released during the conference said the space spending is expected to increase by an average of 14.8 per cent annually in India over the next four years and estimated to be Rs 10,000 crore by 2014.

Currently, India is ranked sixth globally in terms of space budget and technological capabilities, behind the US, Europe, Japan, Russia and China, a New India Space Market Study has said.

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