Google to Buy Satellite-Imaging Company Skybox Imaging for $500 Million

Google agreed to buy satellite startup Skybox Imaging Inc. for $500 million in cash, its latest of several moves into space as it searches for new sources of information and ways to deliver that data to more people.

Skybox has designed and launched small satellites that can collect daily photos and video of the Earth. Founded in 2009, Skybox has raised $94 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and Norwest Venture Partners, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. Its founders wrote their first business plan as part of a Stanford graduate entrepreneurship course, according the company’s website.

Google said it is buying Skybox mainly for its image capabilities, at least initially. However, the company is also trying to cover the globe with fast Internet access from the sky, using balloons, drones and satellites. The goal is to get everyone in the world online, which would likely increase the number of Google searches and boost the company’s advertising revenue, while also boosting usage of Google’s other services, such as Gmail and Maps.

“Their satellites will help keep our maps accurate with up-to-date imagery,” a Google spokesman said. “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.”

The Skybox team will initially work with Google’s Maps business. Google Maps uses images from roughly 1,000 sources currently. Most of these images of the Earth are updated every few months or years. If Skybox can help Google update this information daily, it could help people respond to incidents, such as disasters, more quickly and help direct responses.

However, longer term, Skybox’s technology may also help with Google’s goal of spreading Internet access more widely.

Nextbigfuture covered Skybox Imaging in February 2014

Skybox was founded out of the CubeSat community and they are ardent believers in the power of commodity, commercial electronics to change the cost of doing business in space.

Traditional satellites capable of taking imagery at better than 1 meter resolution weigh thousands of kilograms, which makes it prohibitively expensive to launch enough of them to capture timely imagery. They have produced similar performance in a box 20x smaller by breaking open the many black boxes that define traditional systems and creating an optimized design using automotive grade electronics.

The circuitry that drives our satellites – providing power, attitude control, communications, thermal management, and imaging support – are about the size of a phone book and consume less power than a 100w light bulb. We’ve integrated the latest, greatest, and fastest commercially available FPGAs, processors, and memory to ensure our small satellites pack the largest possible punch.

Their small size means we can afford to launch lots of satellites, and provide you lots of timely, sub-meter imagery and video, along with powerful derived analytics.

Skybox Imaging will launch a fleet of satellites into Earth’s orbit and revolutionize the industry of satellite imaging–is this: Launching satellites into space can be pretty cheap, if you know what you’re doing.


Each of our satellites generates over a terabyte of data per day. This data has to be processed, stored, and indexed in a way that is flexible, affordable, and scalable. At Skybox, we are pioneering the use of Hadoop for satellite imagery and other geospatial applications. We have built API’s that bridge the gap between Hadoop and image scientists.

Our image science team has used this technology to develop PixelLoom, an advanced suite of pixel processing algorithms including frame-to-frame registration, super-resolution, non-linear denoising, pan-sharpening, color enhancement, and a host of other features. All of this is built against Hadoop, which means instant scalability and provides us the ability to continuously improve our algorithms and the data we are able to provide you.


Taking quality pictures from space is hard. Imagine a camera more than 600 kilometers away from its target, moving at over 7 kilometers per second, trying to see an object less than 1 meter in size. At this distance, the law of diffraction limits the smallest ground object that can be imaged through a telescope based on the diameter of that telescope. Using sophisticated, proprietary manufacturing techniques, our telescopes are able to approach the limits dictated by the laws of physics – enabling higher quality imagery than ever seen before in similarly sized optics.

Cameras and Sensors

Traditional satellites capture imagery like a copier machine — with a line scanner that builds up images row-by-row. These sensor arrays capture lots of light, meaning less of the grainy noise you see in a cell phone picture taken in too dark of a room, but they make satellites extraordinarily complex. Skybox uses the latest generation of two-dimensional imaging sensors, coupled with sophisticated, proprietary camera electronics to dramatically simplify our systems in space.

SOURCE : Wall Street Journal,, nextbigfuture

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