Google may sell off its satellite imaging division

As part of Alphabet's belt-tightening, Terra Bella may be cast off to a rival.


Wall Street has been pushing Google to behave more like a regular company, hacking and slashing at its longer-term projects and R&D divisions. Now, Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat has her sword pointed at the search engine's satellite imaging unit, Terra Bella. According to both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, Google will sell the division to a competitor, Planet, and buy mapping data from other companies in future.

Terra Bella began life as Skybox Imaging, which Google bought for $500 million way back in 2014. The division has developed and launched seven satellites that take high-resolution snaps of our planet. Not only is the imagery used to update and improve Google Maps, but the data is also sold to third parties.

It's believed that Planet doesn't have the cash to buy Terra Bella from Google for anywhere near the asking price. As such, the would-be suitor will hand Alphabet equity in its business in exchange for the satellite division.

What we don't know, and probably won't for some time, is what this means for Skybox for Good. That was Google's ambitious plan to hand high-resolution mapping data to non-profits to help them track their work. Let's hope that nonprofits clearing minefields and preventing deforestation don't lose out to what could be some short-sighted cost-cutting.