Russian start-up plans to deploy space-based billboards

Does it feel like the world is awash in advertisements? I mean, we’re advertising on women’s armpits now. However, if you feel there’s still room to add more then just wait. A Russian start-up has announced plans to build giant space-based billboards.

StartRocket’s space-based billboards would light up the night sky with advertisements for companies like Coke, McDonald’s, and KFC. And if they’re successful, we could start seeing advertisements floating in the sky as soon as 2021.

StartRocket plans space-based-billboards

The billboards, which are a bit like sky-typing, use swarms of tiny, light-reflecting satellites, referred to as “CubeSats”, to create sprawling billboards. Each CubeSat is equipped with a reflective sail about 30 feet in diameter. Sunlight reflects off these sails and forms luminous words or logos visible from the ground below.

The satellites will be in low-Earth orbit rather than in the atmosphere, and only be visible only at night. However, the billboards would only display advertisements for a year, according to a report from Astronomy. But they could be seen from just about anywhere on the planet.

StartRocket currently has a prototype and initial tests of the space-based billboards could begin early next year. The company hasn’t revealed details about which rocket would deliver the satellites into orbit or how much it would charge clients to advertise.

Are space-based billboards the future of advertising?

This sort of stunt has never even been attempted before on a scale such as this, which makes this venture particularly impressive. Although not everyone is happy with the plans, with some critics pointing out the problem of light pollution the space-based billboards would generate. It could also threaten astronomical research on the ground.

Some experts, like University of Michigan astronomy professor Patrick Seitzer, say this is a horrible way to waste this technology. In fact, he says that space is already crowded, and that people probably don’t want to see giant ads for Big Macs blotting out the stars:

“Launching art projects like this with no commercial, scientific, or national security value seems unwise… 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.”

StartRocket CEO Vlad Sitnikov said the company’s plan for space-based billboards were inspired by the “disco ball” satellite launched into orbit last year by California-based firm Rocket Lab. The “Humanity Star” satellite was put into space as an orbiting art project, and circled Earth for two months before burning up in the atmosphere.

Space entertainment, as it is being called, is a developing field with many individuals and companies looking to use space for profit. Recently, a Japanese firm launched a satellite which set the wheels in motion for artificial meteor showers. And in China, one town has toyed with the idea of an artificial moon to replace streetlights at night. 

“If you ask about critics of advertising and entertainment in space in general — haters gonna hate,” said Vlad Sitnikov. “We are developing a new medium. In the beginning of television no one loved [ads] at all.”

In 1993, the United States outlawed space-based advertising, but there’s no such ban in place in Russia.

What are your thoughts on advertising in space? Is this one step too far? Share your opinions in the comments below or on social media.