Google said Tuesday it will buy startup satellite maker Skybox Imaging for $500 million, a move that will see the tech giant send its own fleet of satellites to take aerial pictures and get up to date information for Google Maps and also provide online access to remote areas of the world.
The satellite photos currently used by Google Maps are between one and three years old. With a fleet of Skybox satellites orbiting the planet, the images could be updated far more frequently. This would help keep Google apprised of new road construction projects and other recent changes, making Google Maps more reliable and accurate.
Skybox was started in 2009 by four business school students from Standford who believed that smaller and cheaper satellites were the future of the space industry. After a slow start, the company eventually caught the interest of investors like Khosla Ventures and Bessemer Venture Partners, raising a total of $91 million. Although a significant amount of money for a startup company, that figure pales in comparison to the $500 million for which Google purchased the company.
“No one expected this company to succeed,” Bessemer partner David Cowan told The New York Times. “People in aerospace wrote it off as a Mickey Mouse attempt to do something that was impossible.”
Google also says that it is looking at new projects using the technology. Although current satellites are used primarily for high-resolution imaging, Skybox’s true value is its ability to build small satellites out of easily acquired components. The company says it has built and launched the world’s smallest high-resolution imaging satellite. Google hopes that Skybox satellites could one day aid in disaster relief efforts by maintaining a current picture of the area as events unfold. The satellites could also be used to provide internet access to areas without a landline connection.
Google hopes to gain federal approval to take control of Skybox Imaging soon.The deal needs approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the FCC.