Advertising is everywhere; streets, malls, cars and trucks, transit, and in our hands on smartphones, it has reached literally every corner on the earth. Where else has not it crawled to? Well, space that is!.
The advantage of letting your ad float in the space is invaluable: a ginormous number of people would see it for a substantial amount of time. Although the costs of going to space are exorbitant, the magnitude and conspicuousness of the ad could make it unique from some other known media.
StartRocket – a Russian startup company – invented a new concept “orbital billboards” that brings billboard advertisements to low-Earth orbit using a grid of tissue box-sized satellites called CubeSats. Orbiting approximately 280 miles above ground, these tiny satellites will sail some 30 feet in diameter to catch and reflect sunlight, creating a pixelated matrix and projecting advertisements into the night sky like an artificial constellation to form luminous logos. The ad is similar to skytyping, would be visible only at night but could be seen from just about anywhere on the planet.
In the concept video on StartRocket’s website, a logo of a fictional company called “Loca-Cola,” is visible in the night sky over a city, everyone notices it and takes pictures in amazement. Andy Warhol said: “The most beautiful thing in Tokyo is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Stockholm is McDonald’s. The most beautiful thing in Florence is McDonald’s. Peking and Moscow don’t have anything beautiful yet” “Space has to be beautiful. With the best brands, our sky will amaze us every night”.
StartRocket CEO Vlad Sitnikov said in an email to NBC News in 2019, The company has a prototype CubeSat already, and initial tests of space-based advertising could have begun early 2020. Sitnikov said the company’s plan for space-based advertising was inspired by the “disco-ball” satellite launched into orbit in January 2018 by the Huntington Beach, California-based firm Rocket Lab.
Sitnikov also said the boldness of “ the Humanity Star” project led him to wonder: “What if we invent a new media, the first media in orbit?”. The “Humanity Star” satellite, put into space as an orbiting art project, circled the planet for two months before burning up in the atmosphere as it fell back toward Earth. He added, the CubeSats might remain in orbit for up to a year, after which they would be remotely “deorbited” to burn up in the atmosphere.
StartRocket claims they are creating a media – the orbital display —with potential audience coverage of 7 billion people on the planet. The display orbits at 400-500 km altitude and lets them deliver 3-4 messages/images a day, having a viewable area of 50 km using the Sun as a light source. CPM is close to the price of the largest media channel in the industry – television ($9-$15)
According to Futurism, StartRocket partnered with the Russian PepsiCo to test the launch of the promotion of an energy drink called Adrenaline Rush. Spokesperson Olga Mangova confirmed in an email to Futurism that the collaboration is, in fact, real. “We believe in StartRocket potential, orbital billboards are the revolution on the market of communications. That’s why on behalf of Adrenaline Rush — PepsiCo Russia energy non-alcoholic drink, which is brand innovator, and supports everything new, and non-standard — we agreed on this partnership”.
On the other side of the world, PepsiCo’s headquarters in the United States has shot down the idea and stated “We can confirm StartRocket performed an exploratory test for stratosphere advertisements using the Adrenaline GameChangers logo,” a company spokesperson told SpaceNews on April 15. “This was a one-time event; we have no further plans to test or commercially use this technology at this time”.
Not Everyone Applauded The Idea
There was outrage after releasing the concept video and information about the test campaign collaboration with PepsiCo. The public hated the idea, one of Futurism’s readers wrote “the night sky needs to be protected as public space, not private revenue-generating space”.
Expectedly, the idea drew negative feedback from astronomers and scientists as well. Per Dr. Patrick Seitzer, an astronomy professor at the University of Michigan who has been studying space debris since 2000, says in an email to Astronomy.com, “You’ll never see them at midnight, for example, depending on the orbit chosen, they might be visible for a few days, and then not visible for a week or more. Launching art projects like this with no commercial, scientific, or national security value seems unwise,” adds Dr. Seitzer, “Space is getting increasingly crowded. There are over 20,000 objects with orbits in the official public catalog maintained by the U.S. Air Force. Less than 10 percent of those objects are active satellites — the rest are dead satellites, old rocket bodies, and parts of spacecraft..”
Astronomer John Barentine – director of conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association in Tucson, Arizona, and a member of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference, and Space Debris – agrees this isn’t a bright idea. He says these space billboards could qualify as both light pollution and space debris and possibly even disrupt radio signals. “It’s a threat to the ability to do astronomical research from the ground,” he says, noting that SpaceX’s plans to add at least another 7,500 CubeSats into low-Earth orbit will also factor into the problem. “Every one of those moving blips of light in the night sky is something that can interfere with our ability to collect photons from astronomical sources.”
Another opponent, John Crassidis, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University at Buffalo, said “Putting more satellites up there is going to cause more opportunities for collisions, and we don’t want that happening. My biggest issue is that these objects are going to become space junk”.
The U.S. Banned Space-Based Advertising in the ’90s
Back in 1993 Los Angeles Times had an article with the title “ It’s a Bird! A plane! It’s an Ad? Billboard Idea Launches Fight”. This article proves that space ads are not a new concept. In brief, a Georgia-based marketing company announced back then that it was seeking an advertiser for a giant floating billboard it would launch into Earth’s atmosphere, some members of Congress thought the idea was ridiculous and they decided to shoot it down.
According to the article, at that time, Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) said “If advertisers are willing to pay $1.7 million for a minute of ad time during the Super Bowl, it’s frightening to imagine how much they might pay to have their ad seen by half of the world for 15 days”. Therefore, Jeffords, along with four members of the House of Representatives, introduced legislation to prevent the Transportation Department from issuing a launch license for any venture seeking to put an advertisement in space and make it illegal to import goods from firms that have advertised at such heights.
The bill had been applauded by citizens’ groups, environmentalists, and scientists who said a space billboard would be an atmospheric eyesore. Astronomer Carl Sagan and consumer advocate Ralph Nader joined the outcry against the billboard. Environmental groups, including the Audubon Society, have threatened to organize a boycott of any company that advertises on it. The Public Interest Research Group has picketed Space Marketing’s headquarters.
Is The U.S. Law Still Against Shooting An Ad in Space?
According to Spacenews, the Federal law in the United States restricts the ability of companies to perform such advertising. A provision of law covering commercial space transportation prohibits the Secretary of Transportation from approving launch licenses for payloads that are for the purpose of “obtrusive space advertising,” which is defined as “advertising in outer space that is capable of being recognized by a human being on the surface of the Earth without the aid of a telescope or other technological device”. The law does not prohibit other forms of advertising, including placing logos on the sides of launch vehicles or spacecraft.
In the end
The idea of space advertising, or satellites that can be seen in the night sky from the earth by the naked eye, has accumulated controversial arguments over the years. Advertisers are excited about having their ad up in the space in a creative way like nothing before, but at the same time, they fear being scorned by the public. It’s obvious that it needs to be regulated and follow strict laws in order not to pose risk to any other party like astronomers and space scientists. However, we can’t deny that it’s an idea which we could call out-of-the-box and have great potential if not in the upcoming years, maybe in the future.