While rumours about the move had been circulating for some time, it was finally confirmed on 10 June 2014 that the Internet search engine giant Google had made a successful bid to acquire the satellite imaging constellation firm Skybox. Google has offered US$500 million in cash for the firm, officially with the view to “improve internet access and disaster relief”.
Google Maps is known to make extensive use of satellite imagery in its application, while the controversial street view system now allows full visual access to road and building imagery on the ground. To date the US-based commercial imagery provider Skybox has only launched one satellite, Skysat-1, but eventually plans to launch a constellation to provide near real time imagery and video coverage of locations from orbit.
Google’s space acquisitions is unlikely to end there. Sky News reports that the firm is in discussion with Virgin Galactic over taking a major stake in that firm.
Soon after this announcement, the present leader in digital satellite imagery, DigitalGlobe, received clearance from the US authorities to market very high resolution (sub-0.5m) imagery commercially to the world – albeit that the US government retains the right to impose “shutter control” for images of sensitive areas e.g. US military installations etc. The firm’s WorldView 3 spacecraft which is due to be launched in August this year, is reported to be able to take panchromatic images up to a ground resolution of o.3m. Space News gives more detail here.