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Alphabet reportedly selling Terra Bella satellite division, forgoing lucrative live imagery business


Acquired in 2014 and rebranded just last year, Alphabet is reportedly selling off its Terra Bella satellite company (via Bloomberg). Originally aimed at providing up-to-date imagery for disaster relief and later internet service, Alphabet continues to trim down its financially costly projects.

Skybox Imaging was acquired three years ago to the tune of $500 million and operated under the broader Google Maps division. Their main area of focus involved mini fridge-sized satellites that used off-the-shelf electronics to achieve a notable cost and size reduction.

The satellites would take several images of a particular area and then stitch them together on the ground to create a higher-resolution image. Google envisioned that up-to-date satellite imagery would be particularly useful during natural disasters and to monitor climate change.

Other uses were more commercial in nature, like tracking cargo at ports and cars in parking lots to estimate sales. At the time of the acquisition, Google noted that the satellites would be used to provide internet access to various parts of the world.

As such, this sale serves as evidence of Alphabet’s declining internet connectivity ambitions, with Fiber notably pausing US deployment in October. However, the company still has Project Loon to deliver internet via balloons and Project SkyBender providing 5G connectivity via solar-powered drones.

Bloomberg reports that a competing satellite imaging startup Planet might acquire Terra Bella, with some employees moving to the new company and others being reassigned to parts of Google. Notably, the sale would result in Alphabet gaining a stake in the startup.

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: