Google is buying Skybox Imaging in a deal that could serve as a launching pad for the Internet Company to send its own fleet of satellites to take aerial pictures and provide online access to remote areas of the world.
Google Inc. said on Tuesday that it will buy startup satellite maker Skybox Imaging Inc. for $500 million, a 5-year-old Skybox, which claims to have made the world’s smallest high-resolution imaging satellite, which collects a range of images and video of the world’s daily goings-on.
The $500 million acquisition will initially provide Google with the means to improve the quality and immediacy of the satellite imagery used in its digital maps. Google Inc. plans to use Skybox’s satellite already in orbit to supplement the material that it licenses from more than 1,000 sources, including other satellite companies such as DigitalGlobe and Astrium.
But the possible applications of Skybox’s technology go way beyond Maps. “Over time, we also hope that Skybox’s team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief—areas Google has long been interested in,” Google said.
In April, it purchased Titan Aerospace, a drone maker that Facebook had reportedly been eyeing for its own internet delivery ambitions. After buying Titan, Google said “atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation.” Eventually it may repurpose Skybox’s satellites for a similar purpose.
Google hopes to build more satellites that could be used to beam Internet access to points around the world. That would expand an effort that Google began a year ago when it unveiled “Project Loon” — a venture featuring jellyfish-shaped balloons equipped with antennas to bring the Internet to parts of the world without the proper wiring to get online.
And it could give Google a big leg up against Facebook, which has its own drones for Internet and other projects.
Skybox has been working on additional satellites that should be easier to complete with Google’s backing.
“The time is right to join a company who can challenge us to think even bigger and bolder, and who can support us in accelerating our ambitious vision,” Skybox said in a blog post. Skybox had previously raised about $91 million in venture capital. The company says it employs about 100 people.
Google is hoping to gain regulatory approval to take control of Skybox Imaging within the next few months. The deal needs approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as the Federal Communications Commission.