Last month we reported on a rumour that Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was selling their satellite imaging company Terra Bella to another satellite imaging company Planet. It is now official as announced on both the Planet Blog and Terra Bella’s home page (which directs you to the Planet Blog article). Terra Bella was formerly SkyBox Imaging and was acquired by Google in 2014.
The announcement says that the deal includes a multi-year contract between Planet and Google whereby Google will purchase Earth-imaging data from Planet. What we don’t know is what Google plans to do with the imagery. Do any of our readers know? We have not seen much in the way of Terra Bella imagery in Google Earth. We have seen some imagery from them in cases of disaster response. We assume Terra Bella has a number of corporate customers, but presumably those will stay with Terra Bella – becoming Planet customers.
Google Earth would actually benefit from Terra Bella imagery in areas where it doesn’t yet have high resolution imagery – which is actually quite a lot of places, typically hard to photograph areas such as the far north or tropical rain forests with near permanent cloud cover. Another opportunity would be more global mosaics, but this time using higher resolution Planet imagery rather than the relatively low resolution Landsat / Sentinel-2 imagery.
Over the last few years, Planet has become the world leader in medium resolution, high frequency satellite imagery. They have 60 medium resolution satellites (3-5m per pixel). That is set to more than double this Valentine’s Day when they plan to launch another 88 all at once. They also own the Rapid Eye satellites (five satellites with approx. 5m per pixel resolution) which they acquired in 2015. Terra Bella has 7 sub-metre resolution satellites and plans to launch many more. In contrast, the other major players in the Satellite imaging business have fewer satellites but higher resolution (down to 25cm per pixel in some cases).