The tragedy that destroyed the space shuttle Columbia on Saturday will lead to claims of $35m to $50m (£21m to £30m) on the marine insurance market, industry sources said.

The risk was classified as cargo because the policy covered a pressurised work module carried in Columbia's cargo bay, it was claimed.

The marine classification meant the policy was priced at a fraction of what it would have cost as a space risk.

Satellite analyst David Wade of BRIT said the disaster, which killed all seven astronauts returning from a 16-day mission, would increase pressure on Nasa to develop unmanned easier to insure vehicles.

Nasa had self insured the shuttles since recently ceasing to buy third party liability cover.