Planet Labs Inc., a startup that launches small satellites into orbit and sells the imagery, is acquiring the Terra Bella satellite business of Alphabet Inc. in a bid to take on larger industry incumbents.
In return, Alphabet’s Google is taking a stake in the startup. Google has also agreed to purchase satellite images captured by Planet in a multiyear deal. The companies declined to share financial terms.
"It’s a big deal," said Will Marshall, Planet’s chief executive officer. "What this enables us to do is tap into new markets, like certain aspects of the financial markets, insurance and disaster relief."
With the deal, Planet will receive seven high-resolution satellites that Terra Bella currently has in orbit. Planet plans to launch an additional six of Terra Bella’s satellites. They are larger than Planet’s existing satellites and offer up to six times better imagery resolution, Marshall said.
Google acquired its satellite division, then called Skybox Imaging, for $500 million in 2014. Bloomberg News first reported on the plan to sell the unit to Planet. About 60 Google employees are heading to the startup. Planet has raised more than $180 million. Marshall said Planet doesn’t need more funding to pay for the influx of staff and equipment, although the startup may raise money in the future.
For its digital maps, Google currently buys from the imagery company DigitalGlobe Inc. Katie Watson, a spokeswoman for Google, said the Planet deal would not affect its deals with other imagery providers.