SpaceX lands $1 billion from Google and Fidelity

The search giant says its interest in SpaceX is rooted in satellite imaging, as well as other "space-based technologies."

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3 min read

Like others in the tech industry, Space X CEO Elon Musk is tinkering with satellite Internet service. CBS

Google is cementing its interest in outer space.

The company, along with investment firm Fidelity, is pumping $1 billion into SpaceX, the rocket company co-founded by billionaire Elon Musk.

The deal, confirmed on Tuesday by SpaceX, is just the latest bet Google has made on space technologies. The company has recently made investments in satellites, and was rumored to be considering a stake in the space tourism venture Virgin Galactic. The investment, which was reported earlier by The Information, would apparently value SpaceX at $10 billion and give Google and Fidelity close to a 10 percent stake in the company.

It's still unclear what could come of the investment, but some have speculated the deal could bolster Google's and SpaceX's plans for providing low-cost Internet access to under-served regions of the globe.

Silicon Valley companies have been tinkering with ways to provide reliable Internet access to developing regions and acquiring a lucrative new user base without investing in expensive ground-based infrastructure. Facebook said in March it is exploring how to use " drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the Internet to everyone," while Google reportedly is planning to spend more than $1 billion to deploy hundreds of low-Earth orbit satellites.

Google also suggested that the partnership could beef up its efforts in satellite imaging. The company in June said it bought Skybox, a satellite company, to help improve its mapping products and explore projects in disaster relief.

"Space-based applications, like imaging satellites, can help people more easily access important information," a Google spokesman said. "So we're excited to support SpaceX's growth as it develops new launch technologies."

Google isn't the only tech giant looking skyward as it tries to connect more populations. Facebook was said to be interested in acquiring Titan Aerospace, the maker of a solar-powered, high-altitude drone, as part of a plan to deploy 11,000 unmanned aerial vehicles over areas of the globe that lack Internet access. But Google upset those plans a bit when it acquired the New Mexico-based startup last April for an undisclosed sum.

Titan's 20-person team is said to be working closely with Google's Project Loon, an initiative born out of Google's in-house skunkworks facility, Google X, to deliver Internet via air balloon. Unveiled in 2013, the high-flying balloons are solar powered, controlled remotely and can navigate stratospheric winds 12 miles above the surface of the Earth -- far higher than most planes travel. And, similar to the way satellite Internet works, the balloons can communicate with special antennas and receiver stations on the ground.

Google's plans presumably would dovetail with the ambitions of Musk, CEO of SpaceX, which specializes in delivering supplies to astronauts at the International Space Station and deploying commercial satellites.

Musk confirmed in November that his company was working toward constructing and deploying a fleet of up to 700 advanced satellites -- weighing less than 250 pounds each --that would provide low-cost Internet access around the world.

SpaceX's new network, which would be comprised of roughly 4,000 satellites orbiting about 750 miles above earth, would take at least five years to develop and cost around $10 billion, Musk has said. But while other tech giants envision a more worldly benefit, Musk sees the network as providing funds to build a Martian city.

"We see it as a long-term revenue source for SpaceX to be able to fund a city on Mars," Musk told Bloomberg last week. He didn't offer specifics on how he'll make money off the project, but he did mention the possibility of selling satellites after the network is completed.

Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla, founded SpaceX in 2002 "to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets," according to the SpaceX website. It won a $2.6 billion contract from NASA last year, becoming one of the first private companies -- the other is Boeing -- set to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station, beginning as early as 2017.

Editor's note: This story was originally published January 19 at 10:15 a.m. PT. It has been updated to include confirmation from SpaceX and Google.