Google Purchases Satellite Firm for $500M

John Lister's picture

Google has spent half a billion dollars purchasing Skybox, a firm that operates a suite of specialized satellites. It says it will use the satellites to improve its mapping services, offer Internet access to remote areas, and help in disaster relief. The move, however, has prompted speculation that the technology might used to gather highly confidential data, and could even find itself commandeered by US government.

Skybox Satellite Technology Offers Real Time Insight

Skybox is open about the fact that its satellites are designed more for gathering data, rather than communications. It says its main business is to "empower global businesses to make better decisions with timely, high fidelity imagery and infinite analytics." (Source:

Companies using the service can get real-time insights into business activities around the world. For example, the satellites might show an increased level of shipping and trucks at a particular port. Gathering this type of information could demonstrate how a business is performing, long before it showed up in official trade figures. Alternatively, the satellites could measure the number of vehicles in parking lots as a way to track how busy particular stores are.

The data gathered in this way also allows insurers to get a better idea of potential risks, gives farmers a way to monitor crops on a huge scale, and even allows commodity traders to sneak a peek at levels of oil in storage, so they can figure out if prices are likely to rise and fall.

Customers of Skybox can get images zoomed in so close that it is possible to distinguish individual objects that are less than a meter across. It's also possible to get a 90 second high-definition video.

Google Says Improved Maps First Priority

The acquisition of Skybox is said to provide Google the ability to build its own fleet of satellites.

At the moment it appears Skybox will continue to operate as normal, but that Google will effectively have unlimited access to the data. The first priority will be improving its mapping services - not just in terms of coverage, but increasing the frequency with which it updates services.

Google has also mentioned the idea of using the satellites to carry an Internet signal into areas not currently served by cable-based providers or cellphone companies. Satellite set-ups do have some limitations, as they usually require a phone line or other connection to upload data input by the user (rather than download data directly from the satellite).

Another suggestion by Google is that the satellites could aid in disaster relief, making it easier to spot areas of devastation and figure out where survivors might be.

Some serious questions remain about the acquisition, however. Last year, a Capitol Hill aide reportedly said that there is a strong possibility the US government will claim a legal right to access and even control some of the satellites, as part of a condition of the company being allowed to operate them. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think Google will use the satellites in a way that benefits society, or do you think that access to this type of technology is too intrusive and might be used for nefarious reasons? What ideas do you have for creative ways to use these types of satellites?

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tarza177_2334's picture

If the government wants control or access the satellites paid for by Google, they should have to pay an appropriate fee set by Google to these services. There's no free lunch.

matt_2058's picture

The government...any government...can pay for the data like other customers. I'd be ticked if I were a major shareholder and product was taken.

There's a reason the government is moving away from it's own fleet of satellites. Cost. The government can't fully utilize the capability technology is producing and can't monetize left-over capability. It's like letting the neighbor buy all the new-fangled tools and borrowing what you need when you need it.

The US Gov. has been distancing itself from taking care of, contracted launch services, contracted Command and Control, etc. It's just another chapter in the book.

As a Google investor, this is awesome news!

Sparkydog's picture

Google is too entrenched with the government, specifically the Obama Administration, who ignores law. It was just revealed about the Harris Corp. and it's Stingray product, which lets police around the country monitor your cellphone without going through a cellphone provider. The Obama Administration is trying to keep this quiet and is not letting FOI requests go through.
Do you think they will give you the courtesy of asking you, before they track you or your company?
Google is claiming it will help their satellite mapping. I do not believe it for a second.