PARIS — Satellite financing has become the fastest-growing sector at the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, rising from $50 million annually to $1 billion per year since 2010, Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg said.

“You heard that right: Satellites are our biggest riser at Ex-Im,” Hochberg said in a Feb. 20 speech to the Washington Space Business Roundtable. “Not energy, not airplanes, not infrastructure — satellites.”

The emergence of Ex-Im as a challenger, and occasional partner, to the French Coface export-credit agency (ECA) has been one factor in the rise of low-interest ECA satellite funding in recent years.

Once used mainly by customers of limited financial strength, ECA financing has now become a tool for even the most well-heeled satellite fleet operators. And on at least one occasion, Ex-Im approved a loan after the decision to use a U.S. satellite builder had already been made by the foreign customer.

Hochberg said more than 60 percent of all U.S.-built commercial satellites are now supported by Ex-Im financing. The 16 major loans approved since 2010 have a total value of $4.1 billion, he said.

With the addition of rocket builder Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to the mix of U.S. commercial space hardware exporters, Hochberg said, the bank’s involvement in the space sector is not about to fade. Hochberg said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has become a member of Ex-Im’s advisory committee.

“An American company might lose a sale because of pricing, or scheduling, or technical specs, or any number of reasons — but they shouldn’t lose a sale because of financing,” Hochberg said.


Peter B. de Selding was the Paris bureau chief for SpaceNews.