FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A German firm is to start offering space travel insurance, hoping to cash in on a new wave of 'ordinary astronauts' ahead of next year's first commercial space trips.
Insurance giant Allianz will start offering its new space travel policies from the start of next year to coincide with the launch of Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group.
So far about 450 people have reserved seats for the $200,000, five-minute trips into 'sub-orbital' space, the point where weightlessness kicks in and the curvature of the earth and blackness of space can be seen.
Erick Morazin, the Allianz account director in charge of the plans, told Reuters that the while the prices were still being finalised, the most basic level of insurance for such trips was likely to start at around $700 and go up to as much as $10,000.
"We are looking into space tourism as a new market for the next generation of travellers," he said.
"Typically the price of an insurance policy is around 3-4 percent of the total trip cost. So if we were covering the cancellation of a trip, the loss incurred by the customer would be $20,000 -- the price of the deposit -- so the cost of the policy would be around $700."
Morazin added that Allianz had sketched out around 20 different insurance packages that add medical, luggage and other forms of cover to the basic policy. He was wary about giving too many details, however, fearing that it could benefit rival insurance firms also looking to enter the space travel market.
Virgin is not the first firm to offer paying customers trips into space.
One firm, Space Adventures, has so far sent seven people into space and is currently offering customers the chance to do space walks and orbit the moon. Boeing Co (BA.N) has also said it plans to develop passenger spaceships. (for story click )
U.S. plans to scale back NASA's missions is partly driving commercial firms' current interest in providing space trips.
Following the retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet, Washington has announced plans to fund an $850 million investment in commercial passenger spaceships and in future is expected to pay firms to take its astronauts into space.
Reporting by Marc Jones, edited by Richard Meares