In 2014, among the 28 acquisitions by Google, a little treasure was acquired, Skybox Imaging, quietly … And yet, by the end of 2016, every day, every point on the Earth will be mapped in 3D by its satellites! It is a disruption with major commercial implications. Google decided beginning 2016 to re-brand Skybox Imaging for Terra Bella, Italian words which translation is “Beautiful world”…


Earth observation satellites have long been exclusively used by states. Those days are clearly gone because many private players have understood the strategic advantage of satellite observation. Founded in 2009, the Skybox Imaging Company launched its first satellite for high-resolution images that was sent into orbit in 2013. At the time, Skybox engineers could decide to observe, in real time, urban fights between protesters and Ukrainian police in Kiev. In fact, the satellite can stay one and a half minutes focused on the same target. Due to the Earth rotation, the satellite then loses contact with that point and continues its way.

Skybox has developed its own satellite technology. These satellites are assembled and then launched into space by partners. Skybox Imaging technology is the compactness of its satellites with a sharp performance observation. When the French observation satellite Spot-6 has a size comparable to that of a bus, the satellite Skybox is quite as small as a refrigerator! Therefore, the investment regarding the launch of the satellite into space is very limited. As for the accuracy of the images, Joe Rothenberg, Director of Research and Skybox Imaging operations, said that the resolution of its satellites is approaching 70 centimeters. Spot-6 resolution reaches 1,5 meters.

Google did not let this little treasure fall into the hands of its competitors! The Mountain View giant has bought it for $ 500 million in 2014. The company already has two satellites into orbit. By the end of 2016, Terra Bella will add 10 satellites. First, the Vega launcher from Arianespace will launch 4 new satellites. Then, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will propel 6 satellites with its own launchers. Already with 8 satellites, Terra Bella will go over each point on the Earth once per day. At the end, 24 satellites will be in orbit for mapping, several times a day, anywhere in the world … No other private company holds such technology…

Google will be able to enrich mapping services of Google Maps and Waze, its smartphones applications. Soon, big data obtained by satellites such as new roads, accidents or traffic jams will be useful to Google Cars. But this is not the end…

Moreover, Google may also know, for example, attendance at commercial areas by counting the number of cars present in the parking lots, and comparing attendance to previous week or year. Google may even drive the flow of consumers in commercial areas lacking attendance by Waze and Google Maps, and tomorrow with its Google Cars… For a free ride with a Google Car, Google would drive you to places you can find products and services you need. Places you be decided by Google!

In a way, Google is already doing it with advertising! It has become the leader in the global advertising market through its free services: search engine, email, Internet browser, YouTube, Google Photos … In a global market of $ 500 billion, Google collects more than 10% of revenues. However, no advertising on television, radio, newspapers and magazines and even the Internet will lead consumers directly to the seller place… But if Google’ rides would be free for consumers, it would not be the same for shops! Google could become the of the physical world, the interface between consumers and shops. Like the hotel room booking website, would Google take 20% on every purchase?

Franck Cazenave has a PhD in Management Sciences and is the author of Stop Google (Pearson, 2014), only available in French

Skybox Imaging / Terra Bella Credits