A buzz in the tech media reports that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is having final discussions for selling its satellite subsidiary Terra Bella, which was known as Skybox Imaging before its acquisition in 2014, to Planet Labs. Alphabet also considered Monsanto’s Climate Corporation for the sale for somewhere around 300 million dollars.
TechCrunch’s sources have confirmed that the deal is “essentially already done” and includes satellite goods as well as employees. Some rumors even tell that Terra Bella is simply being “donated” to Planet Labs, and $300 million is just a figure.
Skybox Imaging was previously acquired in 2014 for $500 million with the game plan of gaining direct access to the high definition pictures and videos from their satellites.
Some recent series of events such as closure of Titan high altitude drone program, broadening its autonomous car unit as Waymo within Alphabet, ceasing Fiber development, canceling its robot launch prove that Alphabet is undergoing a reorganizing phase and therefore, the news of selling Terra Bella is not very surprising.
The Skybox startup initially launched just one satellite among its fleet and 13 others were next to hit the launch pads. After Google’s acquisition, 4 other satellites were again launched in September 2016. This means their are still some satellites waiting to be launched, which may affect the price of the deal.
On the other hand Planet Labs has just raised under $160 million from investors like Yuri Milner, Founders Fund and Data Collective, making it a consolidator in the world of small satellites. 2015 witnessed the acquisition of Blackbridge, a small satellite making company, by Planet.
If Planet has to pay anything close to what Google paid initially, it will have to raise its funds quickly, or as sources say, Google will take stakes in Planet.
This scheme however, sounds more appropriate, because in this way Google could still avail the facilities of satellites for mapping data, without bearing the price and problems of actually owning them.
Terra’s satellites are capable of capturing ultra-high resolution pictures and small videos of the the earth’s demography, different objects, movement of people’s and many more. However, they say that the their actual purpose not collecting pictures but combining them with machine learning to spot patterns in those pictures “to uncover signals that drive the global economy”.
Google’s initial aim for the acquisition was to get more accurate mapping data for Google Maps, but it also sensed opportunities in some other areas like improving internet access and disaster reliefs.
Meanwhile, there are some rumors about the Monsanto owned digital agriculture company which says, “Climate is talking to every single micro-satellite company in the valley.”
Climate Corporation specializes in tools and platform for tracking weather, soil and other such factors for providing data to customers to enhance their productions. Satellite imaging and mapping seems to be very helpful to them, therefore, their investments seems logical.