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We Don't Need Billboards in Space

23 April 2019

Can you imagine looking up at the sky and seeing an advertisement, not on a billboard but actually in the sky amongst the stars? It came closer to the reality this week with PepsiCo Russia's Adrenaline Rush brand the first to be featured.

The brainchild of Russian Company, StarRocket, the plan is to launch dozens of tiny CubeSats into orbit 280 miles above land in a single rocket. The CubeSats would fly in formation Those CubeSats would then fly in formation and deploy giant reflective sails - in effect an orbital billboard- to send the sun’s light to Earth. Each one of these sails can be controlled independently, so the CubeSats act like programmable pixels.

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According to the company website "The display orbits on 400-500 km altitude and lets us deliver 3-4 messages/images a day, having a viewable area of 50 km2 using the Sun as a light source. CPM is close to the price of the largest media channel in the industry – television ($9-15)."

Displayed prominently on the website is a quote attributed to Andy Warhol:

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.”

The company asserts that its usage could including entertainment - displaying messages during global events such as The Olympics, to provide special offers from brands, and to display urgent public information in a state of emergency.  

Project leader Vlad Sitnikov told Futurism:

“We are ruled by brands and events. The Super Bowl, Coca Cola, Brexit, the Olympics, Mercedes, FIFA, Supreme, and the Mexican wall. The economy is the blood system of society. Entertainment and advertising are at its heart. We will live in space, and humankind will start delivering its culture to space. The more professional and experienced pioneers will make it better for everyone.”

There is Some Precedence


The project suggests a nod to NZ/US company Rocket Lab who launched the Humanity Star into space in 2018, a passive satellite shaped like a geodesic sphere 1 meter in diameter, resembling a giant disco ball.  The company's intention was for it to orbit every 90 minutes and provide a beacon to encourage people across the world to look up and enjoy the night sky. It was criticised by scientists as litter and space graffiti and fell back to earthafter just a couple of months. NASA put a disco ball lookalike in space over 40 years ago, working as a measurement device. It also, of course, brings to mind the simpler, cheaper option of skywriting.

Currently US law 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.

startrocket ad satellite

The law, though, only applies to payloads that would be launched commercially on an American vehicle, and would only apply to a venture like StartRocket if it chose to launch its satellites on such a rocket. Notably, no such laws exist in Russia.

Predictably Not Everyone Is Happy

The company put an open invitation to sponsors on its social media, resulting in critical responses from the public and the scientific community accusing the company of pollution and disrupting scientific research in space.

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In response to the unsurprising criticism and ridicule, PepsiCo's US headquarters announced. "We can confirm StartRocket performed an exploratory test for stratosphere advertisements using the Adrenaline GameChangers logo," a company spokesperson told SpaceNews April 15. "This was a one-time event; we have no further plans to test or commercially use this technology at this time."

Just Because We Can, Doesn't Mean We Should

The idea of sky advertising is hardly new, but when in the instance of spacetech, it requires intensive use of resources that cause environmental harm and is largely derided by consumers and scientists alike, it's foreseeable that any brands who choose to undertake such as offering would receive mass criticism.

Advertising might not be the first sector that springs to mind when you think of sustainability, but in a time when concepts like reducing plastic, e-waste and carbon miles, a number of companies are creating innovative means to not only reduce the impact of their businessbut also create change for good through digital out of home (DOOH) advertising.

Here at HYGH, we are creating a platform that democratizes advertising meaning that digital advertising is not limited to large international companies with full pockets. Sustainable small businesses are given the opportunity to promote themselves to people that they may not reach otherwise. Our creation of hyperlocal advertising for local bricks and mortar businesses encourages people to shop locally in their neighbourhood. Further, digital advertising can be edited remotely, removing the need for a vehicle to travel to each digital screen and change the advertising every time there’s a new campaign. Sustainability is as much about behavioural and attitudinal change and at Hygh we creating opportunities for change.

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