Complex Made Simple

You’ll soon beam your ad campaigns from outer space

A Canadian startup called Geometric Energy Corporation (GEC) has tied up with Elon Musk's SpaceX, taking advertising to space on a small satellite. They are not alone and it could pollute the surrounding cosmos

CubeSats will be put in orbit by SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket that will travel to the Moon in Q1 2022 Orbital Display is a Russian startup’s effort to bring billboard advertisements to low-Earth orbit Space billboards could qualify as both light pollution and space debris and possibly even disrupt radio signals

Space is going to be a billboard.  

A Canadian startup called Geometric Energy Corporation (GEC) has tied up with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, taking advertising to space on a small satellite aboard the Falcon 9 rocket, Business Insider reported. 

Calgary-based GEC is an intellectual property, manufacturing, and logistics company, all rolled into one. Future space ads will run on a pixelated display screen on a satellite called a CubeSat. 

CubeSats are smaller satellites manufactured with mass-produced components for commercial purposes. Weighing not more than 300 kgs, CubeSats can be assembled on demand and launched from alternate platforms.

CubeSats will be put in orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket that will travel to the Moon in the first quarter of 2022. To put up an advert on its screen, those who are interested need to buy tokens that can be used to design a pixel.

The company revealed to Business Insider that it will offer five tokens for purchase; Beta for the X coordinate, Rhoe for the Y coordinate, Gamma for the brightness, Kappa for the color, and XI for time.

Using the tokens, users will be able to decide what their advertising pixel will look like, where it will be located on the screen and how long the advertisement will last. Since pixels are too small to be seen from Earth or from space, a selfie stick on the CubeSat will capture the image and live-stream it on YouTube or Twitch. 

Co-founder Samuel Reid told Business Insider that his company’s efforts are aimed at “democratizing access to space and allowing decentralized participation.”

Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos have already traveled to space, and Elon Musk is planning to do the same following more SpaceX tests. In September,  Inspiration4 will launch the first all-civilian mission to space.

There are commercial ramifications to all of this.

As Jeffrey Kluger, editor at large for TIME and author of Apollo 13, said: “Wherever a commodity has gone, wherever a service has gone, advertising has followed.”

When it comes to ads, space has a clean slate. What marketers and brands do with it is up in the air.  

With the complexity of space environments, this will necessitate new platforms and new ways of marketing and selling.

Ads will start to go cosmic as the new ‘going viral’.  

The democratization of space will bring a proliferation of new social media channels and engagement.

Global brands will now become intergalactic brands and the mass market becomes a vast market.

Space missions will start to become sponsored by Pizza Hut or KFC. We could see Bluetooth-enabled spacesuits with screens and hyper-targeted, customized ads.  

Russia’s space ad efforts

Orbital Display is a Russian startup’s effort to bring billboard advertisements to low-Earth orbit using CubeSats.

Orbiting approximately 280 miles above ground, these tiny satellites will unfurl Mylar sails some 30 feet in diameter to catch and reflect sunlight, creating a pixelated matrix. StartRocket has proposed using this tech to display a knockoff of the Coca-Cola logo and other brand emblems, as well as allow governments to flash urgent notifications during emergencies.

Vladilen Sitnikov, StartRocket’s CEO, describes himself as an advertising guy with a “crazy idea.”

He approached SkolTech, a private university in Moscow, to figure out the technical details, contracting a team of engineers to develop a prototype. If the company can find the money, their first test launch could happen in 2021.

“It’s human nature to advertise everything … Brands [are] a beautiful part of humankind,” Sitnikov says in a video call. He compares his efforts to Elon Musk and SpaceX, who last year launched a Tesla into space, which many considered an advertisement.

Sitnikov also compared Orbital Display to banner-towing airplanes.

Space debris

Like most CubeSats, the billboard will have planned obsolescence and won’t last more than a year, the company says. The Orbital Display will only be viewable in evening and morning twilight, when the cubes catch sunlight while the observer is in darkness, according to Patrick Seitzer, an astronomy professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“You’ll never see them at midnight, for example,” he says in an email. “Depending on the orbit chosen, they might be visible for a few days, and then not visible for a week or more.”

He added: “Space is getting increasingly crowded. There are over 20,000 objects with orbits in the official public catalog maintained by the US Air Force. Less than 10% of those objects are active satellites while the rest are dead satellites, old rocket bodies, and parts of spacecraft.”

Astronomer John Barentine, a member of the American Astronomical Society’s Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference, and Space Debris, 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.”

The Federal Communications Commission recently proposed updates to mitigating orbital debris, but they aren’t law yet, and don’t address advertising.