Space Junk, Damages and Insurance

Could this eventually turn into an insurance line? It certainly is an interesting insurance question. Who is responsible for falling space junk that does damage to property on the Earth. Or more specifically, in the United States.

And how do victims of that space junk get compensated, or if there is resistance to paying that compensation, how can they force the responsible party to pay?

What will surprise most people is that not all space junk burns up in the atmosphere like we’ve been told for decades. In this case, the space junk is a 2.9-ton pallet containing used batteries that was jettisoned from the International Space Station. Instead of burning up in the atmosphere, the pallet crashed through the roof and two floors of Alejandro Otero’s home in Naples, Florida.

It narrowly missed Otero’s son.

NASA confirms the junk that hit his home is from the International Space Station. Under international law, NASA would be responsible for repairs and emotional damages if that junk hit in another country.

That isn’t the case in the U.S.

Otero has since hired Mica Nguyen Worthy and her firm to represent him. She has pointed out that under the Space Liability Convention, NASA would be liable. Worthy wants that standard applied here, too.

“We have asked NASA not to apply a different standard towards U.S. citizens or residents, but instead to take care of the Oteros and make them whole,” Worthy said. So far, NASA hasn’t responded.

One can assume that the agency will eventually make the Otero family whole. What makes the incident so disturbing is that this is not an isolated incident. Other space debris has also landed on the planet without burning up in the atmosphere.

Elon Musk’s company, Space X had pieces of its Dragon capsule crash into the mountains of North Carolina. Some of it also fell in Canada. A piece of junk from the Indian Space Research Organization landed on a beach in Australia.

If either of those were to cause property damage, or worse, injuries or death, how does the law handle that? So far, no answers.

“Here, the U.S. government, through NASA, has an opportunity to set the standard or ‘set a precedent’ as to what responsible, safe, and sustainable space operations ought to look like,” Worthy said. “If NASA were to take the position that the Oteros’ claims should be paid in full, it would send a strong signal to both other governments and private industries that such victims should be compensated regardless of fault.”

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