Nikhil SubramaniamJun 11, 2014 14:43:52 IST
Google has continued its acquisitions spree of 2014 with a purchase of California-based satellite imaging company Skybox Imaging. So what does Skybox do that attracted Google's attention?
Skybox is, simply, put a satellite maker. It sends its own high-tech, yet compact, birds into space to map and image the world as we know it. It owns the tech for both the imaging and the satellites themselves, which are known to be the smallest imaging satellites in the world.
Founded in 2009 by Julian Mann, Dan Berkenstock, Ching-Yu Hu, and John Fenwick, Skybox Imaging. These are the drivers behind a company that went from providing raw customizable data for third-party services, to commercialising that very data for specific purpose. Skybox has been developing a fleet of low-cost imaging microsatellites (although only one is live right now) for commercial and government customers, such as law enforcement, shipping companies, or aid organisations, due to a cloud-based data delivery system, that’s said to be highly responsive. Their core business plan is to deploy a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit to revisit any given spot on the planet thrice a day.
It’s easy to see why Google, which has long been a champion of cloud-based delivery, has been so taken by Skybox’s tech. It paid $500 million for both the satellite building capability as well as the way the company has used its data. One of Skybox’s biggest USPs has been developing tech towards offering up to 90 seconds of HD satellite imaging video at 30 fps. This would have immense applications across industry, but could be especially helpful for Google for its traffic data and mapping business. With Google’s plans to launch its own satellites coming to the surface last month, Skybox’s capability can also be directly put to use there.
The kind of satellites that Skybox makes are called low-cost, but building, launching and maintaining satellites is expensive to say the least, even when they are one of the smallest in the world. According to TechCrunch, the company was in desperate need of funds in recent times, which is why the Google acquisition comes at a crucial time and could have saved the company and its tech from being taken over by other commercial satellite makers.
At the moment, Skybox has a solitary satellite in the air, but it’s been working on the second one since last year and it’s expected to be carried into space on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft scheduled to go out from Kazakhstan. More devices are set for a launch in 2015-16, as many as 13 satellites, built by California-based Space Systems/Loral. That Skybox was able to convince the company which usually makes high-power telecom satellites for commercial TV and data transmission, shows just how much of an impact Skybox has had on the scene in a short time.
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