Satellite imagery and Hadoop mean $70M for Skybox

Skybox Imaging, a startup that wants to capture and analyze high-resolution photos and videos of the Earth from microsatellites, has raised $70 million in Series C funding led by Canaan Partners and Norwest Venture Partners. The money, which brings the Mountain View, Calif.-based company’s total investment to $91 million, will go toward completing development of the company’s first two satellites and then launching them into orbit. It also will help the company bolster its lineup of software engineers and data scientists, which might really be Sybox’s secret sauce.

Investors are so willing to pump gobs of money into Skybox because of its plans for analyzing the data present in the photos and videos its satellites capture. Skybox explains it like this in a press release announcing the new funding:

The value of capturing repeat images and video, coupled with the power to mine that data for trends, gives industries unprecedented information to support decision-making. There are numerous practical applications, spanning sectors from business intelligence and financial trading to disaster response and humanitarian relief.

In order to achieve this end, Skybox is building a Hadoop-based system that will be able to process the imagery and analyze pixels and other data to determine those trends. Loading up on data scientists — especially those with expertise in the various markets Skybox hopes to target — will be critical. They’ll be the ones tasked with figuring out what all that image data actually means in any given field.

If it works as planned, Skybox’s business model could be revolutionary. As Canaan Partners’ Deepak Kamra notes in the announcement, this type of frequent, high-definition imagery hasn’t been available to private corporations before. When you combine the imagery itself with analysis of the data therein, “we can expect to see a dramatic and permanent shift in how business and consumers operate.”