Google's Skybox Imaging is now Terra Bella. Credit: SpaceNews graphic

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is in talks to sell its satellite imaging unit, Terra Bella.

Google acquired what was then known as Skybox Imaging in 2014 for an estimated $500 million but now appears interested in selling the company as it seeks to cut costs.

A leading contender to acquire Terra Bella is Planet, the San Francisco-based company that operates a constellation of Earth imaging cubesats.

A deal to sell Terra Bella to Planet would likely include Google taking an equity stake in Planet.

Terra Bella has been developing a fleet of smallsats that take higher resolution images than Planet’s cubesats, but less frequently.

Terra Bella has seven satellites in orbit, including four launched on a Vega in September. [Bloomberg]

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Satellite ground systems company GMV is investing in a Spanish suborbital rocket startup. PLD Space said Monday GMV led a $7.1 million round in the company, with GMV taking a seat on PLD Space’s board. PLD Space said the investment will allow the company to continue development of Arion 1, a reusable sounding rocket designed to carry a 200-kilogram to an altitude of 250 kilometers. That vehicle will serve suborbital research markets and also serve as a technology pathfinder for Arion 2, a smallsat launcher. GMV, while primarily involved in satellite ground systems, has been involved in some launch vehicle programs in the past. [SpaceNews]

Japan is set to launch one of the world’s smallest orbital rockets tonight. The SS-520-4 rocket, a converted sounding rocket, is scheduled to lift off from the Uchinoura Space Center at 6:48 p.m. Eastern and place Tricom-1, a three-kilogram cubesat, into orbit. The rocket, 9.5 meters tall and half a meter in diameter, is intended to help promote Japan’s space industry by demonstrating a low-cost way to launch small satellites. [Jiji]

Russia will build a replacement for the failed EgyptSat-2 imaging satellite.EgyptSat-A, slated for launch in 2019, will also be a remote sensing satellite, but with improved technology. Energia is building the satellite for the Egyptian government using insurance proceeds, with an estimated cost of $100 million. EgyptSat-2, also built by Energia, launched in 2014 but failed in orbit a year later. [TASS]

The French and Indian space agencies have signed a technology partnership agreement.

The deal between the French space agency CNES and Indian space agency ISRO covers work on launch technology, including how to streamline mission costs.

A separate deal between CNES and TeamIndus, a competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize, will equip the Indian team’s lunar rover with cameras provided by CNES and French company 3DPlus. [PTI]

Two veteran astronauts have left NASA. The agency announced Monday that Mike Baker and Mike Fossum left the agency last week to pursue unspecified careers in private industry. Fossum joined the astronaut corps in 1998 and flew on two shuttle missions and one International Space Station expedition. Baker, an astronaut since 1985, flew four shuttle missions in the 1990s and later led NASA human spaceflight operations in Russia. [NASA/JSC]

A Scottish airport may be dropping plans to pursue a spaceport. A former Royal Air Force base in Leuchars had been identified as one of a handful of locations in the United Kingdom that could host a commercial spaceport. However, a change in government plans from selecting a single site to adopting a licensing system, as well as progress by another Scottish airport seeking spaceport status, Glasgow Prestwick Airport, has dealt a setback to Leuchars. Local officials said they had not found any potential investors willing to develop a spaceport at the air base. [The Courier]

The Earth’s moon may have been created not in a single giant impact but a series of smaller ones. A new study finds that the moon could have been created by a series of 20 impacts of bodies between the size of the moon and Mars with the early Earth. Those collisions would have created rings of debris orbiting the Earth that ultimately coalesced into the moon. Scientists proposing the new model argue that it is a more likely scenario than the “giant impact” hypothesis, where a collision between the early Earth and a single large protoplanet generated the moon. []

Breakthrough Initiatives will work with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to look for planets orbiting Alpha Centauri. Under a partnership announced Monday, Breakthrough will fund the upgrade of an existing instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile, and then use the upgraded instrument to search for evidence of planets orbiting the Alpha Centauri system. Breakthrough, funded by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, is also supporting the Starshot project to develop interstellar spacecraft that could one day be sent to study any planets at Alpha Centauri or other nearby stars. [Ars Technica]

Some hidden box office figures have put Hidden Figures on top. Initial estimates had the historical drama about African American women working at NASA in the 1960s finishing just behind Rogue One, but final numbers showed Hidden Figures beating out the Star Wars movie in weekend ticket sales, $22.8 million to $22.1 million. The movie, in its first weekend in wide release, did better than expected on Sunday, accounting for the increase over initial estimates. [Hollywood Reporter]

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...