Google Sells Terra Bella Satellite Imaging Arm To Planet Labs

Tech giant Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announced Friday that it is selling its Terra Bella satellite imaging arm to Planet Labs. This was confirmed in a blog post from the latter company’s co-founder and chief executive, who believes the acquisition will help Planet achieve its “most impactful year” ever.

On Friday, Planet Labs CEO Will Marshall announced on the company’s official website that it has struck up a deal with Google parent company, Alphabet, to acquire its Terra Bella business, which most importantly includes seven high-resolution SkySat satellites. Once the sale is closed, Google will purchase Planet’s earth-imaging data over several years.


The constellation of high-res satellites appears to be, and is a big score for Planet. According to TechCrunch, there’s also the fact that Google’s satellites stand out for the clear and crisp image quality they provide to Google Earth and Google Maps users, thanks to their use of “sub-meter” technology. But Marshall stressed that the SkySat acquisition is more “complementary” than anything else.

“We’ve long admired what the team at Terra Bella has achieved and we think the SkySat constellation of seven high resolution satellites is highly complementary to Planet’s existing medium resolution 60-satellite fleet. The former enable regular, rapidly updated snapshots of select areas of the globe at sub-meter resolution; the latter regular, global coverage at 3-5 meter resolution.”

The deal also means some organizational changes for both companies, Marshall added. An unspecified number of employees from Terra Bella will continue their work at Planet, as the satellite imaging arm blends in with its new parent.

As quoted on Marshall’s blog post, Google vice president of Product and Engineering Jen Fitzpatrick said that Planet Labs is a “natural” choice for Terra Bella’s new home.

“Terra Bella has accomplished a lot in the past two years—including the design and launch of five more satellites. We’re excited to see what’s ahead for Terra Bella, and look forward to being a long-term customer.”

Separate from its acquisition of Terra Bella, Planet has been making some ambitious plans as of late. On Friday, the company also announced that it hopes to launch about 88 cubists, or smaller satellites, marking the largest onetime satellite launch in history. This event is scheduled to take place on February 14.


Although it appears as if both sides are publicly looking forward to the deal, Terra Bella’s sale also continues Alphabet’s streamlining of its broader business, as it goes with a leaner and meaner approach that focuses on specific arms and does away with those that are less essential to the core. Specifically, Alphabet has singled out its robotics, self-driving car, and drone arms, to name a few, as being of lesser importance. To this end, the company placed the Boston Dynamics robotics division on sale in May 2016, and shut down its solar-powered drone project in January in order to devote more attention and resources to other initiatives.

All in all, The Verge described this approach, as led by Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat, as one that is “more strict and cost-conscious.” But it has also resulted in some “tension” within the company, as well as the departure of several movers and shakers within the Alphabet fold, including self-driving car guru Chris Urmson, Nest CEO Tony Fadell, and Access (a.k.a. Google Fiber) head Craig Barratt, who all left Alphabet within the last year.

Neither Alphabet nor Planet Labs disclosed any information on the financial terms of the Terra Bella purchase, though TechCrunch‘s report also offered some insight into how much Planet may have ended up paying. According to the publication, rumored buyer Climate Corporation had offered a price of $300 million before getting outbid by Planet.

[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]