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Google is selling Terra Bella, the satellite photography business it bought two years ago for $500m, to earth-imaging start-up Planet, as Google’s parent company Alphabet continues to rein in its “moonshot” projects.

Google will take a stake in Planet, which was previously known as Planet Labs, as part of the deal, which also includes a multi-year contract to use images from its growing fleet of satellites. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 2010 by a group of former Nasa scientists, Planet has 60 satellites in orbit today and has plans to launch another 88 later this month. Together, these “Dove” satellites will provide it with new photography of the entire globe every day.

Will Marshall, Planet’s co-founder and chief executive, told the FT that Terra Bella’s high-resolution images, drawn from its seven satellites, would be “highly complementary”.

“This is a powerful combination to have these two data sets under one roof,” he said. “Both teams have a somewhat similar mission of essentially disrupting space and democratising access to the data from satellites…This creates a completely unique capability – no other satellite company can do this.”

When Google’s Geo division bought what was then called Skybox in mid-2014, its primary focus was to improve its mapping data. But it also held ambitions to use the satellites to provide internet access and disaster relief.

Instead of owning the satellites itself, Google will now license imaging data from third parties, including Planet and Digital Globe. Under finance chief Ruth Porat, Alphabet has been trying to refocus on fewer meaningful “bets” and introduce tighter management discipline to its more ambitious “moonshot” projects.

“When we thought about a company that shares Terra Bella’s passion and strengths in high frequency satellite imaging, Planet was a natural home,” said Jen Fitzpatrick, Google’s vice president of product and engineering. “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.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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