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Google is buying Skybox Imaging in a deal that could serve as a launching pad for the Internet company to send its own fleet of satellites to take aerial pictures and provide online access to remote areas of the world.
The $500 million acquisition announced Tuesday initially will provide Google with the means to improve the quality and immediacy of the satellite imagery used in its digital maps.
Google Inc. plans to use Skybox's satellite already in orbit to supplement the material that it licenses from more than 1,000 sources, including other satellite companies such as DigitalGlobe and Astrium.
Eventually, though, Skybox could turn into another Google "moonshot" — a term that CEO Larry Page has embraced for describing ambitious projects that could take several years to materialize.
Google hopes to build more satellites that could be used to beam Internet access to points around the world. That would expand an effort that Google began a year ago when it unveiled "Project Loon" — a venture featuring jellyfish-shaped balloons equipped with antennas to bring the Internet to parts of the world without the proper wiring to get online.
The expansion into satellites comes two months after Google bought drone maker Titan Aerospace for an undisclosed amount.
As the owner of the world's most popular search engine and email service, Google typically benefits when more people are on the Internet to see the ads that generate most of the company's annual revenue of $55 billion.
Skybox is a 5-year-old startup in Mountain View, California, located a mile-and-half from Google's headquarters in the same Silicon Valley city. Led by aerospace industry veteran Tom Ingersoll, Skybox has been working on additional satellites that should be easier to complete with Google's backing.
The deal needs approval from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as the Federal Communications Commission.