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Google's Parent Alphabet Is Selling Its Satellite Imaging Division

By Victor Thomson , Feb 04, 2017 12:23 AM EST
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Google-parent Alphabet is reportedly selling its satellite imaging business, Terra Bella. (Photo : Simple Easy Art/YouTube)

Google parent Alphabet is selling its Terra Bella satellite imaging business for an undisclosed sum to commercial remote sensing company Planet. The deal has been announced Friday, Feb. 3.

Google-Parent Alphabet Is Selling Terra Bella

According to The Verge, Google parent company Alphabet is stepping back from another one of its peripheral businesses, this time satellite imagery. The company decided to sell its imaging unit, called Terra Bella to startup Planet Labs for an undisclosed sum. The deal was announced by both companies on Friday, Feb. 3.

Planet is acquiring rival Terra Bella from Google-parent Alphabet in order to bring together complementary capabilities to image the Earth from space. The terms of the deal have not been immediately disclosed by the two companies. On Feb. 3, Planet spokesman Trevor Hammond said that the two participants in the deal would not share the business and financial details of the agreement.

Google acquired Skybox Imaging for $500 million in the year 2014. Integrating it as one of its Alphabet parent company's business divisions, the name was changed to Terra Bella. The satellite imaging business division is based in Mountain View, California.

Terra Bella Company's Business History

Skybox Imaging was founded in 2009 and before being acquired by Google the company raised more than $90 million. Shortly before being acquired by Google the company signed a contract with Space Systems Loral to build 13 satellites and developed its first high-resolution imaging satellites in-house. Since then, a total of five of those satellites have been launched. Four of them have been launched in Sep. 2016, on a Vega rocket.

According to Space News, the deal is rumored to be already in negotiations since December 2016. Under the deal, Terra Bella's business will be acquired by Planet, including its seven SkySat satellites. Google will purchase imaging data from Planet, under a multi-year contract.

An unspecified number of employees of Terra Bella will join Planet, according to the announcement. The exact number was not disclosed, but Hammond said the number will be "significant." In a statement, Will Marshall, co-founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based Planet, said that he is excited about the deal, being an admirer what the team at Terra Bella has achieved. He added that, in his opinion, the seven high resolution SkySat satellites are highly complementary to Planet's existing satellite fleet.

Planet Labs Company' Business History

Planet has been founded in the year 2010 as Cosmogia. The company has changed its name later to Planet Labs. To date, the startup focused on providing medium-resolution images from cubesat-class spacecraft has raised more than $150 million. Planet aims to develop a constellation of satellites capable of imaging every day the entire planet.

This new deal is not Planet Labs' first acquisition of an operator of remote sensing satellites. In 2015, the company acquired BlackBridge that operated the RapidEye fleet of remote sensing satellites with similar capabilities to Planet's Dove satellites.

This new acquisition is a complementary one, as emphasized by both Planet and Terra Bella officials. It is leveraging the high-resolution imagery from the SkySat system with medium-resolution images coming from Planet's RapidEye and Dove satellites. The deal will allow Planet to diversify its solutions and available data in order to serve new markets and customers.

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