Updated noon Eastern Time with information on timing of the acquisition.
SAN FRANCISCO – Earth observation company Planet plans to acquire Boundless Spatial Inc., a geospatial software specialist, “to accelerate the adoption by government and enterprise customers of commercial geospatial information services,” said Robbie Schingler, Planet co-founder and chief strategy officer. The terms of the deal announced Dec. 18 were not disclosed.
Planet’s U.S. government group will merge with Boundless to create a subsidiary, Planet Federal, focused on selling commercial products to meet U.S. government requirements. Both Planet and Boundless currently serve government customers including the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. However, the firms approach the work from different perspectives.
“At Planet, we come at it from the space side and the data side,” Schingler told SpaceNews. “Boundless creates software and tools to allow people to consume geospatial data in the cloud and on the web. Bringing these things together will help users get the most value out of the vast amount of geospatial data we are developing.”
In recent years, NGA has sought to share geospatial data widely across the intelligence and national security communities through initiatives like GEOINT Services, a platform to provide geospatial sensor and mission data in context over the web with cloud technology.
In April 2017, NGA awarded Boundless, then based in New York, a $36 million contract to support GEOINT Services and to purchase “services required to package, deliver, maintain and patch accredited open-source spatial software packages,” according to a Boundless press release. In November 2017, Boundless moved its headquarters to St. Louis. NGA, based in Springfield, Virginia, is preparing to build a new NGA West headquarters in North St. Louis. Planet will retain Boundless’ St. Louis office and “select staff,” according to a press release.
Boundless employees “are geospatial experts who exhibit a deep understanding of the intelligence community’s mission. Because they’re badged, they’re in the halls, they help solve the end problems inside the intelligence community infrastructure,” Schingler said.
In addition to NGA, Boundless works for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other U.S. government customers, Schingler said. Planet has contracts with NASA, NGA and other U.S. government agencies.
The two companies approach government customers in a similar way, “treating them like very important enterprise customers” rather than following traditional government contracting practices, Schingler said.
This is Planet’s third acquisition. Planet purchased BlackBridge and its constellation of RapidEye Earth observation satellites in 2015. Two years later, Planet acquired Terra Bella and its SkySat constellation from Google.
A common thread in all three acquisitions is talent, Schingler said. “To sustainably enable a transparent planet, takes a large ecosystem of partners as well as the talents of team members of different backgrounds and different perspectives all brought together for the same mission.”
During months of discussions leading up the acquisition, Schingler noted many similarities between Planet and Boundless, what he calls “cultural alignment,” and sees as a key ingredient in a successful acquisition.
Both Planet and Boundless Spatial are mission-driven startups. That’s how Silicon Valley refers to founders who are intent on making a difference in the world rather than simply creating wealth. Since 2010, Planet has been striving “to image the entire Earth every day, and make global change visible, accessible and actionable,” according to its website. Boundless, founded in 2012, introduced the first open Geospatial Information System ecosystem to unlock “the full value of location-based data for all,” according to its website.
In July 2017, Planet achieved the first part of its goal, gathering daily Earth imagery. Now, Planet focuses both on updating its satellite constellation and on expanding the market for geospatial data.
Planet launched a total of 19 Doves and two SkySats on two recent flights: the SpaceX Dec. 3 rideshare mission and the Nov. 29 flight of India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Planet is scheduled to launch 12 more Doves Dec. 27 on a Soyuz rocket from Vostochny Cosmodrome.
With help from Boundless, Planet’s satellite data will be easier for customers to access and analyze, Schingler said. “This acquisition allows for us to help our existing customers get faster utility off of our data because the types of connection points and software that [Boundless] has really unlocks the value within the data feeds,” he added.
Planet and Boundless signed a definitive agreement Dec. 15 laying out the terms of the acquisition. If all goes as planned, the acquisition will be completed in two-to-three months, Schingler said.