Google has announced plans to purchase Skybox Imaging, saying the satellite imaging company will help it improve its performance in providing map data and delivering business intelligence to organizational customers.
The Internet search company says it will pay $500 million for Skybox, to gain access to high-quality images Skybox gathers with small, relatively inexpensive satellites.
"Skybox's satellites will help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery," Google said on its website.
Founded five years ago, Skybox, which developed and launched what it claims as "the world's smallest high-resolution imaging satellite," said it was the right time to "join a company who can challenge us to think even bigger and bolder, and who can support us in accelerating our ambitious vision ... to revolutionize access to information about the changes happening across the surface of the Earth."
Google says the purchase will help it maintain and update Google Maps, and that Skybox's expertise and technology can help it toward its goal of expanding Internet access worldwide and provide help in disaster relief efforts.
Google has been exploring other possibilities, including balloons and drones, to push its Internet reach into areas of the globe not currently within range of its service offerings, most especially sparsely populated regions.
Founded by four business students at Stanford University, Skybox saw a niche below most satellite companies that provide high-end orbital offerings.
The company believed building satellites with readily available off-the-shelf modules would mean more satellites could be launched at a lower price.
SkySat-1, its first effort, was successfully launched in November 2013.
The low-cost, efficient ethos is likely what attracted Google's interest, says David Cowan, a partner a Bessermer Venture Partners, which helped fund Skybox.
"Google bought this because Sergey and Larry have ambitious designs on space," Cowan said, referring to Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. "If they're going to do something big in space, it's going to be through small, cheap satellites."
Google's recent acquisition of Titan Aerospace will be a good fit with the Skybox buy, analysts say.
"Satellite imagery and drone imagery complement each other very well, especially in the context of improving the coverage and quality of the Google Earth platform," says lya Golubovich, founding partner of New York venture capital firm I2BF Global Ventures.
"Hardware expertise that Skybox will be bringing in can also be used to accelerate Google's affordable Internet programs, such as Project Loon," he said, referring to the search company's balloon-based initiative to create worldwide Internet access.