Russian startup StartRocket says it wants to display enormous billboard-style advertisements in the night sky using arrays of cubesats, a vision it illustrates in a concept video featuring what appear to be the McDonald's and KFC logos hovering in the sky like new constellations.
According to project leader Vlad Sitnikov, this commodification of the night sky is the next logical step in advertising.
"We are ruled by brands and events," he told Futurism. "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."
StartRocket says it will launch what it calls the Orbital Display by 2020, and start displaying ads in the night sky by 2021. Its cubesats will orbit at an altitude between 400 and 500 kilometers (about 250 to 310 miles) and will only be visible from the ground for about six minutes at a time, a company representative told Futurism.
The company didn't share how much a space advertisement might cost, but a pitch deck sent to Futurism opined that brands will pay for the ads because the "ego is brighter than the sun."
Randy Segal, an attorney who specializes in space and satellite law at the firm Hogan Lovells, told Futurism that the project may be technically feasible, but that StartRocket could run into regulatory hurdles around the world.
"Is it technologically possible? Yes," Segal said. "Is it something that regulators will permit? Questionable."
Segal said it's likely that the company will allow particular jurisdictions to request that the satellites not display ads overhead. The primary regulatory challenge the company might face, she predicted, would be whether its satellites will interfere with aviation safety.
The concept isn't without precedent, Segal pointed out. A Japanese startup plans to launch a pair of microsatellites that will fire off artificial shooting stars on command.
It's easy to imagine public outcry at the idea of brands hijacking the night sky as more marketing real estate.
But Alexey Skorupsky, another member of the StartRocket team, pushed back at those criticisms. He pointed to the New Zealand company that launched a disco ball into orbit last year, a move that annoyed scientists — though, Skorupsky said, it was only visible for a few minutes at a time.
"I think scientists can use this time for peeing or having a coffee," Skorupsky told Futurism.
And in the end, he argued, the commercialization of space is inevitable.
"If you ask about advertising and entertainment in general — haters gonna hate," Skorupsky said. "We are developing a new medium. At the advent of television no one loved ads at all."
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