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Google buying Skybox satellite firm to boost Maps and further Loon project

Google said Tuesday it’s set to acquire Skybox Imaging for $500 million.

The company uses relatively small and low-cost satellites to gather high-quality images that Google will use for Maps and Earth.

In a short statement posted on its website, the Web giant confirmed the agreed purchase, adding that “Skybox’s satellites will help keep Google Maps accurate with up-to-date imagery.”

It added that over time it hoped the technology will be able to help out with its plans to bring Internet access to remote locations around the world and help with disaster relief.

Skybox – like Google, based in Mountain View, California – said Tuesday that in its five-year history it had “built and launched the world’s smallest high­-resolution imaging satellite,” adding that the time was right to “join a company who can challenge us to think even bigger and bolder, and who can support us in accelerating our ambitious vision….to revolutionize access to information about the changes happening across the surface of the Earth.”

The acquisition complements Google’s April purchase of Titan Aerospace – a New Mexico-based company specializing in high-altitude drones – with both buyouts helping to further Google’s Project Loon balloon-based initiative, geared toward spreading Internet access across the globe.

Tuesday’s development also fits nicely with news that leaked last week revealing Google’s plan to launch hundreds of satellites as part of its Loon initiative. A network of satellites, drones and balloons could ultimately help Google to boost its ad-based revenue as the company brings more people online. And it’s not the only one with the idea – Facebook is also working on a similar project, with the social networking giant leading a group of big-name tech firms in a project to bring Internet access to unconnected locations around the world also using satellites and drones.

Google’s acquisition of Skybox is subject to customary approvals and closing conditions, both companies confirmed.