Google acquires Skybox Imaging satellite company

Google in the sky

Google has purchased satellite company Skybox Imaging for $500m (£298m).

According to a statement yesterday, the search giant has signed an acquisition agreement with the five-year-old tech company, for $500m cash subject to adjustments and approval.

Skybox Imaging is based in Mountain View alongside Google, and builds and deploys satellites capable of taking high definition pictures and videos of earth. However, it claims these satellites are around 20 times smaller than previously required for this level of imaging detail - making them more affordable, and enabling Skybox to launch "lots of satellites" for wider coverage.

Although Skybox currently has just one satellite in orbit, it plans to launch 24 in total - in a blog post, the company said: "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."

The future of maps

The acquisition is set to bolster Google's popular maps service, with the company stating:

"Skybox's satellites will help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. 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 Maps could therefore soon be available in close to real time, with images so detailed they can capture moving cars and planes, or according to Skybox's website, monitor "crop health", "ships entering ports" or "refugee movements".

The satellite race

As for Google's mention of improving internet access, this has been an ambition of the company for some time. After launching Project Loon in June 2013 using high altitude balloons to improve connectivity, the tech giant acquired solar powered drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed amount in April 2014.

However, it was initially Facebook who were in talks to acquire Titan Aerospace in March 2014 - settling instead for UK-based Ascenta for $20m. CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched the Internet.org project in August 2013. Google's purchase of a satellite company may put it one step ahead in the global internet race.

Adrian Mursec, head of development at theEword, commented: "It's easy to see how useful highly detailed real-time images of the earth's surface could be for all manner of purposes. As Google's aerospace shopping spree continues, it's clear the company has big and long-term ambitions in this field."

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