GeoEye signs deal to provide imagery to Google

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - GeoEye Inc on Thursday said it will provide imagery from its new $502 million high-resolution GeoEye-1 satellite to Google Earth and Google Maps after the spacecraft is launched on September 4.

Boston is pictured from a GeoEye satellite in an undated handout photo. REUTERS/GeoEye/Handout

GeoEye spokesman Mark Brender said the Google logo was on the first stage of the Delta II rocket that will launch the new satellite, which will provide the highest resolution commercial color imagery available on the market.

“Google is interested in collecting the highest quality satellite imagery available and as a symbol of this commitment has agreed to put the company logo on the first stage of our launch vehicle,” Brender said.

He said Google did not have any direct or indirect financial interest in the satellite or in GeoEye, nor did it pay to have its logo emblazoned on the rocket.

If all goes well with the launch, GeoEye’s new satellite will be the world’s highest resolution commercial earth-imaging satellite, offering images at .41 meters resolution in black and white and 1.65 meters in color.

Under current government rules, the company can only offer the public half-meter images.

Google spokeswoman Kate Hurowitz said Google would begin receiving half-meter resolution imagery from the new satellite after 45 to 60 days, during which the company will make sure all the satellite’s systems are up and running.

“The combination of GeoEye’s high-resolution, map-accurate satellite imagery from GeoEye-1 and Google’s search and display capabilities provides users with access to rich, interactive visual image maps of the Earth,” Hurowitz said. She gave no details on the financial terms of the agreement.

Google already uses imagery collected by another high-resolution GeoEye satellite, IKONOS, as well as imagery from other sources, including GeoEye’s main rival, Digital Globe, which plans an initial public offering this year.

DigitalGlobe launched its new high-resolution satellite, WorldView-1, in late 2007, which offers half-meter resolution and can collect up to 750,000 square kilometers (290,000 square miles) of imagery each day, albeit only in black and white.

Google will continue to use imagery from other providers, but GeoEye will provide its imagery exclusively to Google, not any other on-line mapping websites, Brender said.

GeoEye, which went public in September 2006, has expanded dramatically over the past five years, quadrupling its work force and reporting large revenue and profit increases.

Its shares were hammered in recent months on news of a delay in the launch of the new satellite, which was originally planned in April, and given a slump in orders from the Pentagon’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

But GeoEye Chief Executive Matthew O’Connell said the launch of GeoEye-1 should help spur U.S. government orders and buoy the company’s shares. He predicted strong growth over the next five years, bolstered by growing commercial, global and government demand for satellite imagery.

GeoEye’s shares closed 2.4 percent higher at $23.18 on Thursday, up sharply from a low of $16.05 in May, but still well below a 52-week high of $37.37 in January.

Editing by Gary Hill