Google to Sell Satellite Unit to Planet Labs
Alphabet unit would get shares in the startup as Google tries to simplify operations

Alphabet Inc.’s Google is selling its satellite business to competitor Planet Labs Inc. for shares in the startup, in a move to simplify Google’s sprawling operations.

Under the deal, Planet would acquire Google’s satellite-imagery Terra Bella unit and its seven satellites in orbit, the companies said. In exchange, Google would get a stake in Planet and agree to purchase satellite images from the company for five years. The companies declined to disclose further details of the deal, which requires regulatory approval.

Google is selling Terra Bella largely because it believes it can save money and simplify its business if it buys satellite imagery from a third party versus launching and operating a network of satellites itself, a person familiar with the deal said. Negotiations between the companies took place last month.

Google purchased Terra Bella for $500 million in 2014, when it was known as Skybox Imaging. The sale is Alphabet’s latest move to shed some of its bolder bets, including the closure of an internet-beaming-drone project and its effort to sell robot-maker Boston Dynamics.

Planet Chief Executive Will Marshall said Terra Bella’s satellites capture imagery six times as detailed as the images from Planet’s network of 60 satellites. Planet, based in San Francisco, also said Friday that it plans to launch an additional 88 satellites later this month, enabling it to photograph all 57.3 million square miles of the Earth’s land mass each day, up from roughly 19 million square miles today.

“By scanning the whole world in medium resolution, we can spot changes. And then we can point [Terra Bella’s] high-resolution satellites on those changes,” Mr. Marshall said. “So it’s very complementary.”

Planet plans this year to launch six more Terra Bella satellites, which weigh about 260 pounds each. Planet’s existing satellites weigh about 10 pounds each.