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Circling the (Not Google) Earth: Obama Spreads Science Wealth

As part of the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh on Oct. 13 (co-hosted with the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University), the Obama administration announced more than $300 million in new investments in new technology.

In addition to money for brain science and cities’ investment in “quality of life” technology, $50 million is going to “fuel a revolution in small-satellite technology that could provide capabilities such as ubiquitous high-speed Internet connectivity and continuously updated imagery of the Earth.”

That sounds like it could be a boost to the potential satellite Internet plans of Google, whose ties to the White House have been well-documented and include the U.S. chief technology officer, Megan Smith, formerly a Google vice president.

The reference to satellite pictures of the Earth also had a Google-like ring to it. Curious about any connection, The Wire checked in with the White House.

An official there, who asked to speak on background, said the primary driver of the investment was actually imaging rather than communications.

The official said the funding was for NASA and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) projects on remote sensing and imaging, though he conceded it could also have benefits for high-speed Internet, as advertised.

The application that was being targeted with satellites the size of shoeboxes rather than buses, he said, was being able to take a picture of the entire Earth and update it every 24 hours.

Asked whether that might not also benefit Google — for example, Google Earth — the official said the NGA isn’t working with Google, but rather mobile geospatial mapping company Planet. Planet is getting $20 million with the other $30 million going for “earth sciences” observations. We were able to locate and identify Planet on (what else?) Google.