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Google to expand space ambitions with stake in Virgin Galactic

Google is reportedly in talks to buy a significant stake Richard Branson's flagship space tourism project, Virgin Galactic. The move would constitute another step in the search giant's growing interest in space and future technologies.

The deal, which is rumoured to be in the region of £17.8 million would give Google access to satellite launch technology, allowing it to extend its reach into space.

Sky News has reported that negotiations between the two companies have been going on for months, and sources close to both companies suggest that a deal is likely to result from this final round of talks.

The partnership would involve Google supplying hundreds of millions of dollars to embark on a joint venture, while Virgin Galactic would supply its considerable space technology.

Google would also buy a small but significant stake in Branson's ambitious pet project. Sources have claimed that the stake would be worth 1.5 per cent of the total valuation of the company, a rate which suggests Virgin Galactic could be worth around £1.2 billion.

It was also revealed on Tuesday that Google is looking to acquire satellite company Skybox Imaging. The $500m (£298m) deal will enable Google to improve the quality and of the imagery used in its digital maps, and a partnership with Virgin Galactic would allow it to put its satellites into low Earth orbit with little effort.

Skybox provides sub-meter resolution images, 90 second videos and can analyse changes to areas over a period of time. So far, the technology has been used to help identify pest infestation in crops, analyse supply chains by tracking ships and update commodity traders on oil storage.

A Google press release said, "Their satellites will help keep our maps accurate with up-to-date imagery. Over time, we also hope that Skybox's team and technology will be able to help improve Internet access and disaster relief — areas Google has long been interested in."

This is all likely part of aid Google's plan to boost worldwide Internet coverage, thus getting more people online and potentially increasing the search giant's advertising revenue.