Why The Heck Did We Invest In Skybox Imaging, A Satellite Startup?

News broke yesterday about the big round of financing raised by Silicon Valley based Skybox Imaging. CrunchFund participated in that round.

This is about as far from your typical TechCrunch-covered startup as you can get. It’s not a quirky new online business model or social application that may or may not take off. They’re building real satellites and they’re getting ready to launch them into space.

Why do we like Skybox so much?

Because they’re building a desperately needed imaging platform for a new generation of business and other applications. To put a satellite into space costs hundreds of millions of dollars today. And just one satellite in a network isn’t all that interesting. GPS, for example, uses more than 30 satellites.

To create a useful network of imaging satellites for near real time applications you need dozens of satellites in orbit and sharing information. That’s cost prohibitive for all but the most powerful world governments.

Unless you find a way to get an orders of magnitude decrease in cost.

If a company was able to do that, and put a satellite into space at a small fraction of the current cost, they’d likely be able to lock down a number of high profile customers for a variety of previously cost-prohibitive applications. Confidentiality agreements and U.S. export regulations might prohibit that company from disclosing much, or any, of that information.

But investors would obviously have access to that information. You can draw your own conclusions as to why the company is hiring big data engineers in droves, and why Canaan Partners, Norwest Venture Partners, Khosla Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners and CrunchFund might want to put some $90+ million into that startup.

That’s why.

17 thoughts on “Why The Heck Did We Invest In Skybox Imaging, A Satellite Startup?

  1. Amazing. Also, investing in long term infrastructure companies is always a huge win!

  2. mckaythomas says:

    Space, the final frontier… and for less than we thought.

  3. gregorylent says:

    the good side of the future of drones, as well ..

  4. Damon Pace says:

    Your 2nd to last paragraph makes it seem like a collaborative consumption play for satellites. Interesting idea if that is where the project is headed. Good luck!

    • mckaythomas says:

      Certainly reads like there is more here than is being written. It reminds me of Don Valentine’s View From The Top speech at Stanford about their strategy when they invested in Apple and how that prompted investments in semiconductors and several other companies because one could not exist without the other. This seems like a similar situation.


  5. Dexter Morgan says:

    The best part of your vagueness is that now all possibilities are open to interpretation. Not even going to say what excites me because then someone on here would just tell me its not possible anyway! haha

    Thanks for the update Mike

  6. I’m not personally into satellite imaging or anything like that, but the sheer idea of building “relatively” affordable satellite AND launching them into space is huge. Good luck!

  7. Ray Cromwell says:

    Since the majority of the cost of putting anything into orbit is the launch system, I don’t see how Skybox solves that problem. SpaceX solves it because they’re reducing the costs of LEO launch.

    • This is the first I read about Skybox, but they talk about ‘microsatellites’. I can imagine something similar to the videos I’ve seen where weather balloons are used to bring iPads and similar to very high altitudes; where if you radically reduce the weight of your ‘satellite’, down to less than a kg, and you don’t need to use the same satellite for years, you can use radically different launch methods.

    • jholyhead says:

      If putting something really big and heavy into space is expensive, how can you make it cost less?


  8. Rip says:

    What’s the best ground resolution (cm) of the satellite(s) going to be? Nowhere is there any mention of this metric. This is very important to be able to judge the validity of the business model.

  9. Judy says:

    Surely there is an upper limit to the number is satellites required shared resources are the way to go no?

  10. ltgjamaica says:

    The Synergy between location services and its value to advertising has not been fully tapped hence investing funds in semi mature market segment that is connected to current cash cow (advertising) can never be a bad idea

  11. denniswingo says:

    What has happened with Skybox? They were supposed to have launched satellites already. Any update on them?

  12. Anders says:

    Articles found about Skybox and their satellites named SkySat

    ECAPS will design and manufacture a complete High Performance Green Propulsion (HPGP) system for Skybox’s third Earth observation satellite, according to Skybox
    In the U.S., a startup company called Skybox Imaging, also plans to develop a constellation of smallsats for imagery. Its first satellite, SkySat-1, is planned for launch in the coming months on a Dnepr rocket., according to SpaceRef
    The first two satellites are set to launch in the fourth quarter of 2012 aboard an International Space Company Kosmotras Dnepr rocket, according to TechCrunch
    The first satellite will be launched in 2012 on a rocket. For later launches, Skybox reportedly has an agreement with Virgin Galactic to use the LauncherOne rocket, according to Günter´s Space Place
    A maiden launch is planned for 2015 with the vehicle becoming operational in 2016. Initially, LauncherOne missions will be staged from Spaceport America, a new commercial spaceport in New Mexico, according to Günter´s Space Place
    If launch tests go according to plan, Virgin Galactic expects the LaucherOne to take its first commercial journey sometime in 2016, according to The Verge

  13. Anders says:

    The first two satellites are set to launch in the fourth quarter of 2012 aboard an International Space Company Kosmotras Dnepr rocket, according to TechCrunch

  14. Anders Classon says:

    Feb 12 2013 – Skybox Imaging Accelerates Constellation Deployment, see

    Skybox Imaging (Skybox), an emerging provider of timely satellite imagery and data services, today announced it is adding an imaging satellite, SkySat-2, to its fleet during 2013 via a newly available secondary launch opportunity aboard a Soyuz-Fregat. Skybox has secured this launch opportunity by contracting with JSC Glavkosmos, a secondary payload launch provider within the Russian Federal Space Program that works on behalf of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).
    The satellite will launch alongside the Meteor-M weather satellite from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. It will be a copy of Skybox’s first satellite, SkySat-1, planned for launch in 2013 aboard a Dnepr launch vehicle.

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