Google Goes Into Space

Virgin Galactic Ship

Image courtesy of Virgin Galactic, New Mexico.

Google Goes Into Space

By Thursday Review staff | published June 16, 2014 |

A few weeks ago we ran an article about Elon Musk’s Space-X, which after a year or so of quarreling with the United States government over being able to compete on a level playing field with other aerospace companies—like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin—finally got invited to the table. The reason: tensions in the Ukraine have lead both the U.S. and Russia into a trade standoff and a sanction-filled environment. No more Russia rockets to get Americans into space or to launch top secret military gadgets into orbit.

Meanwhile, the stakes in space keep getting bigger. Google is now in quiet talks with Richard Branson’s commercial space company, Virgin Galactic. Google hopes, if the deal is signed, to hire Galactic to send Google payloads into Earth orbit.

Google has an interest in space and satellite technology as a platform for open internet access worldwide, and space-based web platforms and internet servers would allow Google to largely bypass some of the problems it faces with hostile governments. Google also sees space-based internet as a logical step in the expansion of the web and its eventual availability to anyone, anywhere on the planet, who wants access to information.

Google intends to spend millions—hundreds of millions, by some accounts—in its partnership with Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Google will also buy a small piece of Galactic for about $30 million.

Only weeks ago Google purchased outright Mountain View, California-based Skybox Imaging, a satellite firm specializing in rapid-development analytics, high resolution photos, and real-time images for business. Skybox leases or rents access to satellite flyovers, and offers companies assistance with processing highly accurate data from the captured imagery. Its website says it can deliver “relevant imagery and video in as little as 20 minutes.”

Google’s purchase of Skybox is significant. Not only does Google want those extremely high-resolution images of the Earth so that it can more rapidly update its mapping and satellite imaging activities, but Google also wants access to the algorithms and data-processing tools that Skybox possesses.

Like Amazon and Facebook, Google has been developing a variety of out-of-the-box methods to reach people and to corral data searches in unfiltered ways. And like Amazon, Google has experimented with drones to accomplish this task. But Google hopes to leap past hundreds of other limitations by placing its own platforms for data harvesting and delivery directly into space, and according to some business analysts, its partnership with a private space firm was inevitable.

Virgin Galactic is working with the state of New Mexico to construct a space facility in the desert of southern New Mexico. The goal is the establishment of a space launching facility for entirely commercial purposes—both unmanned and manned missions. The facility is mostly completed.

Just a few weeks ago NASA and Virgin Galactic announced plans to carry scientific and research payloads into space using Virgin Galactic’s winged, reusable launch vehicle “SpaceShipTwo.” The payloads will contain scientific equipment for the study of zero-gravity effects on computer components and hardware. SpaceShipTwo has already carried humans into space on previous occasions.

Reports in the British press indicate that Google intends to discuss long-range plans for placing numerous satellites into space for the purposes of creating internet platforms in optimum positions around the Earth.

Back in April, Google also bought Titan Aerospace, a manufacturer of drones and other high-altitude devices. The Titan deal was significant because Facebook had also made an offer to buy Titan, but chose instead to purchase the British aerospace firm Ascenta, which also specializes in extreme-high-altitude drones and low-altitude satellites. Like Google, Facebook seeks to create as much internet access as possible across as many times zones and regions as possible. Both Titan and Ascenta would be able to deploy high-altitude platforms for around-the-clock internet access, in most cases free of electronic interference, slow internet speeds, or government regulations.

Related Thursday Review articles:

U.S. Space Travel Without Russia?; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; May 15, 2014.