Google latest “moonshot” is an apt one – it is investing in a Nasa-owned airfield to expand research into space exploration and robotics.Planetary Ventures, an offshoot of Google, will take over management of the Moffett Federal Airfield.
The airfield is already regularly used as a landing strip for the private jets of the firm’s billionaire executives.
Google has not divulged exactly how the site will be used.
But, according to a Nasa press release, the site will be used for “research, development, assembly and testing in the areas of space exploration, aviation, rover/robotics and other emerging technologies”.
For Nasa, the sale offers rich pickings – the agreement will provide it with $1.16bn (£731m) in rent over the initial 60-year lease term.
“As Nasa expands its presence in space, we are making strides to reduce our footprint here on Earth,” said Nasa administrator Charles Bolden.
And for Google, the investment represents an opportunity to restore an iconic building.
Part of the deal includes the restoration of Hangar One, an important landmark in Silicon Valley. Built in 1933, it is one of the world’s largest free-standing structures.
Planetary Ventures plans to invest more than $200m in rebuilding Hangar One and two other hangars on the site.
It will create an educational facility where the public can explore the site’s legacy and the role of technology on it.
“We look forward to rolling up our sleeves to restore the remarkable landmark Hangar One, which for years has been considered one of the most endangered historic sites in the United States,” said David Radcliffe, vice president of real estate and workplace services at Google.
Very little is known about Planetary Ventures, the firm behind the deal. Press reports describe it as shell organisation for real estate deals although the name hints at something more.
The base, previously maintained by Nasa’s Ames Research Center, is located four miles from Google’s Mountain View headquarters.
It is not the first time Google has invested in unusual purchases. Two mysterious barges that appeared on the coasts of San Francisco and Portland, Maine, last year turned out to be Google-owned.
It emerged that Google intended to use them as floating showcases for new products such as Google Glass and its self-driving cars.
The project was later abandoned after coastguard officials deemed them to be a fire risk.
Neither it is the first time that Google has worked with Nasa. Back in 2005, Google built an office at Nasa’s research facility in order to co-operate on a range of projects.
More recently, the two teamed up to launch a new laboratory, focused on advancing machine learning, also based at Nasa’s research centre.
Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have a well-known interest in aviation and space and the company has acquired firms working on satellite technology and robotics.
The net giant also funds the Lunar X Prize, a $30m competition to land a privately funded robot on the moon.