Insurers have contributed funds to a £120,000 research project to develop an early warning system for detecting satellite-damaging space particles.

Marsh Space Projects, the Benfield group and a subsidiary of Brit Insurance are supporting the study by the University of London's space laboratory, which hopes to produce a black box to detect potentially devastating solar radiation in the form of ‘killer electrons'.

Project leader Dr Andrew Coates said: “Insurers are increasingly worried about the amount of money they have been losing from satellites that have developed problems in orbit.”

Space insurance claims grew to £1.2bn against premiums of only £566m in 1998.