Space billboards will flood our night sky with enormous illuminated advertising

Well, it had to happen sooner or later.

A Russian startup is planning to put advertising billboards in space, viewable as massive floating eyesores in the night sky.

When I first started looking into this story, I thought it was a joke. I mean, it’s like something you’d have seen on Brass Eye or read about in The Onion.

Its website content is so caked in irony that it feels like you’re being taken for a ride. And I think there’s a very good chance we are being.

Take a look for yourself. This is the image that greets you on startrocket.me:

On the left is a quote from Andy Warhol, which says:

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.

On the right is the following statement:

Space has to be beautiful. With the best brands our sky will amaze us every night.

No ugly place there after this.

And in the middle is a photo of a Coca-Cola ad floating in the night sky, with people staring at it in awe.

I mean, this has to be a joke. Either some artistic project making a statement about our corporate, consumerist society, or an elaborate ruse for a new TV show or film.

Something that makes me even more suspicious is the fact Start Rocket has chosen to use Coca-Cola as an example of its first space ad.

If you’re ever seen the sci-fi classic Blade Runner, you’ll probably remember the ubiquitous building-sized Coca-Cola ads all around the city it’s set within.

Is Start Rocket not so subtly trying to tell us something, or is it just a new startup with a new idea that’s using the most iconic advertising image it can think of to showcase its vision?

It’s hard to know.

But its founder, Vlad Sitnikov, sounds – on the surface at least – deadly serious.

Speaking to Realnoe Vremya, he had this to say:

The idea was born at a time when the American company Rocket Lab launched the ”disco ball” in January 2018. It turned out that you can take risks, go beyond the ”visible” and make a real revolution in space; launch a new industry — the entertainment industry in space. There is science in orbit, soon there will be travelling, but there is no industry for which humanity lives and suffers.

It was necessary to quickly calculate the possibility of displaying an object that could serve as a carrier of an image or message visible from the surface of the planet. My mentor Ivan Burgin, who deals with the ballistics of GLONASS group, made a rough calculation of this project from the point of view of physics and technology. The answer was simple — it is possible. Available rocket carriers can launch an object with a certain weight. I realized that we can go further, and then announced a competition. The result was a proposal to Skoltech of the idea with the formation of CubeSats.

And what of the massive amount of criticism his project has drawn? Here’s what he thinks of that:

There will always be people who deny the development of society. Remember, there were the Luddites? They destroyed the machines because they were deprived of their work. We’re all fighting for clean ocean, but the garbage island in the Pacific keeps growing. They complain that we clog up the orbit — but no, we destroy everything that we take. They complain that our satellites will interfere with the observations of astronomers, but no, it takes 6 minutes for us to fly through the sky, quickly and with minimal probability to be in the moment and in the area of the observed area.

Perhaps having giant billboards in space is just the natural evolution of advertising.

After all, it has managed to make its way into just about every other medium on the planet. Why should it not now branch out into space?

Maybe we’ll one day love our space billboards just as much as people love the Hollywood sign.

In fact, the Hollywood sign could be a pretty good proxy for how space advertising will go down. From the Smithsonian:

If you’re at all familiar with the history of the Hollywood sign, you’ll likely remember that it started as an ad for a new housing development in 1923 called Hollywoodland.

Using 4,000 light bulbs, the sign was illuminated at night and flashed in three succeeding segments: first “holly,” then “wood,” and then “land.” The sign would then light up in its entirety, all 4,000 light bulbs piercing through the dark of night to the city below.

Los Angeles didn’t invent outdoor advertising (that distinction may belong to the ancient Egyptians, who would post papyrus notices of rewards offered for runaway slaves), but it certainly played a prominent role in the city’s history and its visions of the future.

As the automobile took the city by storm in the first half of the 20th century, it became increasingly necessary for advertisers to make their billboards larger so that speeding motorists wouldn’t miss their message.

However, the Hollywood sign is a one-off. It’s a novelty. And perhaps Start Rocket’s space billboard wouldn’t actually be so bad. It will allegedly only be visible for six minutes at dawn and dusk.

But, if it becomes successful, you can guarantee others will copy the idea. So Sitnikov’s justification kind of falls flat there.

What about international regulations, haven’t there been any drawn up to stop something like this? Not according to Sitnikov:

At the moment, there is no regulation of communications in the orbital space from humanity. Theoretically, we can be over China, Fiji or Australia. It is unlikely that everyone can unite to regulate the space.

I’m sure within a few months the truth about this project will come out. Until then, I’m not really sure what to make of it. But it certainly poses some interesting questions.

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Technology

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