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Alphabet likely to sell Skybox Imaging to rival Planet

US: Alphabet may sell its $500 million worth company Skybox Imaging to satellite imaging startup, Planet (formerly known as Planet Labs), according to some employees from the Alphabet, said a Bloomberg report. Skybox Imaging, which was renamed only last year, would move to Planet as part of the deal, while others may get different positions at Google, said the report.

Representatives from Planet and Alphabet’s Google unit declined to comment. The move signals an ambitious agenda for Planet, which has raised more than $150 million. In contrast, Google parent Alphabet has been curbing once-audacious plans to blanket the globe with internet access, partly through networks of small satellites.

At the time of the acquisition of Skybox in June 2014, Google said its equipment would help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. It also hoped to use the technology to improve internet access and disaster relief. The division operated within Google’s mapping business and it launched a small number of satellites, each about the size of a refrigerator.

Alphabet seems to be switching from a strategy of developing its own satellite businesses to investing in other companies pursuing similar goals. The Skybox sale to Planet is an equity transaction, which means Alphabet will own a stake in the latter startup, according to some of the people familiar with the situation.

In the emerging markets, both Skybox and Planet were fierce rivals. Both the companies hoped to surround the Earth with dozens — possibly hundreds — of satellites that can take near-constant pictures of the planet’s surface. The technology has been billed as helpful for things like tracking deforestation and counting the number of cars in retail store parking lots to gauge sales.

The companies differed in their approach. Skybox aimed to make larger satellites with higher image resolution, while Planet has looked to use more, smaller satellites. Skybox’s momentum seemed to slow following Google’s acquisition, while Planet Labs has continued to raise money and send many satellites into space.