Image captured by Skybox's first satellite in November 2013

Image captured by Skybox’s first satellite in November 2013

The rumors were true – Google announced it will acquire satellite imaging startup Skybox Imaging for $500 million.

Based in Mountain View, 5-year-old Skybox offers high definition images and footage of Earth using custom built lightweight satellites. Instead of building large, expensive conventional satellites, Skybox is betting on micro-satellites built with off the shelf components, such as parts normally used in the automotive industry. So far, the startup has only launched one satellite, with plans for two more to go into orbit this year.

Skybox made headlines when it released what it called the first high-definition video of Earth captured from outer space. In addition to sub-meter resolution images, the company can provide up to 90 seconds of video from many locations around the world.

But it’s not just raw imagery that Skybox can provide – the company uses sophisticated software for processing big data collected from outer space, which it makes available to other satellite and UAV operators.

Google says it will use Skybox imagery to enhance the accuracy of Maps, which relies heavily on satellite imagery for Earth view and more. But the Skybox acquisition could tie in with Google’s plans to bring Internet access to the most remote areas of the world. The company’s Project Loon high-altitude balloons are already in testing, while the recent acquisition of drone maker Titan Aerospace suggests that Google is considering multiple avenues to reach its goal.

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