Autonomous Vehicles

Published on February 5th, 2017 | by James Ayre

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Alphabet (Google Parent Company) Selling Terra Bella Satellite Business

February 5th, 2017 by  

The parent company of Google, Alphabet, is selling its satellite business Terra Bella (formerly Skybox Imaging).

The buyer? Planet Labs. Though, the Monsanto-owned firm Climate Corporation was also in talks with the company previously, according to the sources in question — a matter we’ll return to further down.

Why does this matter to us here at CleanTechnica? Amongst other reasons, Alphabet/Google originally acquired the business in 2014 (for $500 million) partly in order to get access to better mapping data for Google Maps (which has relevance for the Google/Waymo self-driving vehicle tech business). There also also potential connections to climate change, climate mitigation, and climate adaptation.

As part of a general restructuring over the last year, though, it seems that Alphabet is no longer keen to hold onto the business — for whatever reasons.

Tech Crunch provides more context not included in the Planet Labs announcement (and published before the Planet Labs announcement):

“The transaction, one source said, is ‘essentially already done’ and will involve employees as well as satellite assets. We’ve not heard a firm price. Aside from the $300 million figure we heard, another described Terra Bella as essentially being ‘donated’ to Planet. …

“Planet Labs has raised just under $160 million to date from investors including Yuri Milner, Founders Fund, and Data Collective, and it has positioned itself as a consolidator of sorts in the small satellite space. In 2015, the company acquired Blackbridge, another player in small satellites.

“If the valuation of Terra Bella is anything close to what Google paid for it, Planet might have to raise more capital — or, what may be more likely according to a source — acquire the assets in an equity deal, where Google could take a stake in Planet.”

That could make a lot of sense — after all, the company would still have an easy means of getting the mapping data it wants, but without having to directly run yet another business/division. Notably, Google originally considered purchasing Planet Labs, according to rumors. However, there is no mention of equity for Google in the initial announcement, only that it will be a multi-year customer.

Here’s a bit more from that Tech Crunch coverage that’s particularly interesting:

“But even if Google is bowing out of the race to control better mapping data for enterprise applications, there are others still hot on the trail. ‘Climate is talking to every single micro-satellite company in the valley,’ one source told us about the Monsanto-owned digital agricultural company.

“The Climate Corporation provides tools and a platform to measure and model weather, soil, and field data to farmers to optimize their crop production. Getting a more direct source of imaging data, and more control of what is actually getting photographed and how, seems like a very logical strategy.”

Hmm? That’s no doubt a vast simplification of what that sort of data could and likely would be used for.

Back to the Planet Labs announcement, not much is detailed on what the actual deal with Google is, but the company writes, “Google, upon closing, will enter into a multi-year contract to purchase Earth-imaging data from Planet.”

And here’s more on what Planet Labs thinks of and intends to do with the acquisition:

“We’ve long admired what the team at Terra Bella has achieved and we think the SkySat constellation of 7 high resolution satellites is highly complementary to Planet’s existing medium resolution 60-satellite fleet. The former enable regular, rapidly updated snapshots of select areas of the globe at sub-meter resolution; the latter regular, global coverage at 3–5 meter resolution. The two systems under one roof will be truly unique and will enable valuable new capabilities.

“Planet will distribute SkySat data through Planet’s suite of geospatial offerings. Planet’s global medium-resolution imagery has proven to be of great value in the commercial market, enabling us to exceed our revenue goals in 2016. With Terra Bella, Planet will diversify its available data and solutions and be able to serve new customers and markets.”


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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.



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