Google likes its ambitions sky high. This time, it has gone a little further.
The internet giant, along with Fidelity, has invested $1 billion in Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the private rocketry company founded by Elon Musk. The move could help Google achieve its aim of bringing satellite internet to remote corners of the world while giving SpaceX more money for its founder to pursue dreams of going to Mars.
In addition to a payoff on its investment, Google may be seeking to put itself into orbit. Last year, Google bought Skybox Imaging, a maker of small, high-resolution imaging satellites, for about $500 million. Google already offers satellite imagery in its Google Earth product, but must purchase these images from multiple sources, often receiving what company executives have said is uneven image quality.
Google may also be interested in developing satellites with other kinds of sensors, like infrared detectors that show the health of crops, or lasers that can pierce forest canopies to show underlying terrain.
Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are both personally interested in space exploration. More practically, the company has been trying to transform the internet connectivity business with high-altitude balloons that people can use to get online from remote locations. That same transmission technology could conceivably be put on satellites as well. Google is in competition with Facebook, which is also interested in advanced means of connectivity and which last year purchased a drone company.
Google and Fidelity will collectively own 10% of SpaceX because of the investment, SpaceX said in statement. “Space-based applications like imaging satellites can help people more easily access important information, so we’re excited to support SpaceX’s growth as it develops new launch technologies,” Don Harrison, Google’s vice-president for corporate development, said in a statement. Harrison will join the board of SpaceX.
With this investment, Google is hopping on a crowded bandwagon. Last week, Virgin Group, along with Qualcomm, a maker of communications semiconductors, announced they had invested in a constellation of 648 internet connectivity satellites. Also on Tuesday, Planet Labs, a maker of shoebox-size satellites that offer Earth imagery, announced it had received $95 million in financing.