Google buys satellite startup Skybox for $500M

The search giant will use Skybox's satellite-photo tech to improve Google Maps -- but it also has more ambitious plans.

Richard Nieva
Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
2 min read

Google buys satellite startup Skybox.
Screenshot by CNET

Google is acquiring Skybox Imaging, a company that specializes in photos taken by satellites, for $500 million.

Skybox boasts that it built and launched the world's smallest high-resolution imaging satellite, and the company provides data analytics and video of Earth taken from afar. In announcing the deal Tuesday, Google said the buyout will help bolster Google Maps by keeping the service accurate with up-to-date images. But the search giant also has more-ambitious plans for the technology. The acquisition will give Google the ability to design and build its own fleet of satellites.

"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 a statement.

The deal comes as big tech companies have become more interested in aerial technology -- including satellites and drones -- to expand their reach and business operations: getting more people online means being able to offer services to larger populations.

Google in April purchased drone maker Titan Aerospace to help further Project Loon, the company's initiative to bring the Internet to less-connected places around the world using high-altitude Wi-Fi balloons.

Facebook -- which was also said to be in acquisition talks with Titan Aerospace -- has focused on developing drones and satellites as a means for beaming Internet connectivity to more people. In March, the company announced a new lab dedicated to developing that technology. The effort is in line with the mission of CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Internet.org, which aims to bring the Web to everyone in the world.

"Skybox and Google share more than just a ZIP code," reads a blog post by Skybox, which, like Google, is based in Mountain View, Calif. "We both believe in making information (especially accurate geospatial information) accessible and useful."

Google Maps itself got its start after Google acquired another satellite imaging company, Keyhole, a decade ago.

Skybox in November launched SkySat-1, a satellite capable of taking 90-second videos at 30 frames per second. The satellite was to be the first of a fleet of 24, launched to capture views of Tokyo; Bangkok; Baltimore; Las Vegas; and Aleppo, Syria. Google hasn't indicated if the rest of the launches will remain on schedule after the startup joins the company. We've asked Skybox for comment and will update this post when we hear back.

Though people have for some time been speculating about Google's interest in Skybox, Tuesday's announcement pegged the deal at half the price of the rumored $1 billion that had originally been reported. Google also warned that the price tag could be adjusted and that the deal is subject to approval by regulators.