Tech Industry

Google to buy satellite startup Skybox?

A small satellite startup called Skybox Imaging is reportedly in Google's sights for an acquisition offer of around $1 billion.

A photo of Saga Prefecture in Kyushu, Japan, from Skybox Imaging's SkySat-1 satellite. Skybox Imaging

Is Google ready to plunk down a billion dollars or so to acquire a company specializing in satellite imaging?

One possible target is Skybox Imaging, a Mountain View, Calif.-based firm with its own satellite cluster that specializes in data analytics and highly detailed images and video of Earth, according to a report in TechCrunch. Skybox was valued between $500 million and $700 million at its last fundraising round in 2012, the report said.

Skybox Imaging declined to comment. Google did not respond to a request for comment.

Word of Google's alleged interest in owning satellite imaging technology comes on the heels of its April purchase of drone maker Titan Aerospace to help further develop high-altitude Internet-broadcasting balloons as part of Google's Project Loon. That pickup was also seen as helping to advance work that's being done by geospatial teams at Google Maps and Google Earth.

The TechCrunch report cautions that its source for the deal could have some inaccurate information meant to disguise which startup Google is actually targeting, from among a group that includes Skybox and others such as Planet Labs. Planet Labs owns 28 Earth-imaging satellites, and, like Skybox, focuses on data analytics, imaging, and video.

Though Google could be interested in Skybox Imaging or Planet Labs to bolster Google Earth for consumers and its Google Earth Enterprise unit, there is another possibility. As the dominant player in the commercial Earth-imaging space, Google has a vested interest in real-time imagery, and specifically a real-time virtual representation of the entire Earth -- an incredibly difficult goal to achieve.

The drones of Titan Aerospace, and a satellite startup like those rumored to be in acquisition talks, could go a long way toward making that moonshot a reality.

Update, 1:56 p.m. PT: Adds Skybox Imaging declining to comment.