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February 6th, 2017
Planet to Acquire Terra Bella from Google

WASHINGTON — Commercial remote sensing company Planet announced Feb. 3 it was acquiring rival Terra Bella from Google for an undisclosed sum, bringing together what the companies believe are complementary capabilities to image the Earth from space.

Under the deal, rumored to be in the works since December, Planet will acquire Terra Bella’s business, including its constellation of seven SkySat satellites. Google will also sign a multi-year contract to purchase imaging data from Planet.

The companies did not immediately disclose the terms of the deal, and Planet spokesman Trevor Hammond said Feb. 3 the companies would not share the financial and other business details of the agreement. Google acquired Terra Bella, then known as Skybox Imaging, in 2014 for $500 million.

According to the announcement, an unspecified number of employees of Terra Bella, based in Mountain View, California, will join San Francisco-based Planet. Hammond declined to disclose a specific number but said a “significant” number of Terra Bella employees will join Planet.

“I can speak for everyone at Planet when I say that we’re incredibly excited about this opportunity,” Will Marshall, co-founder and chief executive of Planet, said in a statement announcing the deal. “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.”

Founded in 2009, Skybox Imaging raised more than $90 million before being acquired by Google. The company developed its first high-resolution imaging satellites in-house and signed a contract with Space Systems Loral to build 13 satellites shortly before being acquired by Google. Five of those satellites have since been launched, including four on a Vega rocket in September 2016. Planet, founded in 2010 as Cosmogia and later changing its name to Planet Labs, has raised more than $150 million to date. It has focused on providing medium-resolution images from cubesat-class spacecraft, with plans to develop a constellation capable of imaging the entire planet every day.

The deal is not Planet’s first acquisition of a remote sensing satellite operator. In 2015 it acquired BlackBridge, which operated the RapidEye fleet of five remote sensing satellites with capabilities similar to Planet’s fleet of Dove satellites. Both Planet and Terra Bella officials emphasized that the acquisition is a complementary one, leveraging the high-resolution imagery from the SkySat system with the growing catalog of medium-resolution images from Planet’s Dove and RapidEye satellites. Planet noted in its announcement that the deal will allow the company to “diversify its available data and solutions and be able to serve new customers and markets.”

“From the start, Planet and Terra Bella have shared similar visions and approached aerospace technology from a like-minded position, and while our on-orbit assets and data are different, together we bring unique and valuable capabilities to users,” John Fenwick, co-founder of Terra Bella, said in a statement.

Both companies were planning to launch additional satellites this year. Earlier Feb. 3, Planet announced it planned to launch 88 Dove satellites into sun-synchronous orbit on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) Feb. 14. The satellites, the most launched at one time by Planet, would be part of a payload of more than 100 small satellites on that PSLV mission.

Terra Bella was scheduled to launch six SkySat spacecraft on an Orbital ATK Minotaur-C later this year from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The status of that launch wasn’t explicitly noted in the announcement, but it did state that “the largest launches yet for both Terra Bella and Planet [are] scheduled for this year.” Hammond said that the launch manifests for both companies would remain unchanged.