Artificial stars and the future of space advertising

Last month, SpaceX announced that they would be partnering with a Canadian startup company, Geometric Energy Corporation, to launch a satellite into the atmosphere for advertising purposes. The satellite, named CubeSat for its shape, would only be 10 cm long and would have a “selfie-stick” attached to the cube that would allow for the screen to be live-streamed on Twitch and YouTube.

Anyone is allowed to buy a pixel on CubeSat using cryptocurrency, which means that although larger companies could buy multiple pixels to advertise their product with Earth in the background, private citizens could theoretically buy them as well. GEC CEO Samuel Reid says that this could “democratize access to space and allow for decentralized participation.” According to Reid, the satellite would look “similar to artboards such as Reddit Place and Satoshi’s Place.” 

By converting money into cryptocurrencies like etherium (and soon dogecoin), people can buy GEC tokens, which can then be spent on pixels that will be displayed on the satellite. Five different tokens exist, and each type of token would allow you to choose either the X coordinate, Y coordinate, brightness, color, or time to display. While neither GEC nor SpaceX have announced the price of these tokens, it will most likely be too expensive for the average person to buy anything significant.

Interestingly, the idea to market space satellites isn’t entirely unprecedented. In December of 2019, the Japanese company Astro Live launched a satellite designed to create artificial shooting stars across the night sky. This would allow people to order “meteor showers on command,” as the company put it, for the special events of those rich enough to afford it. While the entire system won’t be up and running quite yet, the company hopes to complete its mission by early 2023.

Space Advertising refers to any advertising done in space or centered around space flight. While many people may think of billboards in the sky, the majority of successful ad campaigns have actually been done through live streams on space stations or rockets. In 2000, for example, Pizza Hut paid one million dollars to have their company logo on a proton rocket that was launched to the International Space Station. Similarly, in 2016, Lowe’s sent one of their 3D Printers directly to the ISS in hopes that it would be used by the astronauts aboard.

Luckily for those who enjoy stargazing and camping trips, the Secretary of Transportation is forbidden by federal law from approving any type of Space Billboard. The law specifically bans “obtrusive space advertising,” 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.”

However, U.S. Federal Law does not prohibit non-American companies (or foreign branches) from launching space advertisements. In January 2019, PepsiCo’s Russian branch partnered with Russian startup company StartRocket to create an orbital billboard that would still be visible from the ground. The billboard was set to advertise an energy drink called “Adrenaline Rush,” but ultimately the project was halted later that year by PepsiCo’s American branch. Nevertheless, StartRocket claims that “the technology is there” today to have orbital billboards, and international space law is not developed enough to prevent such a thing from taking place.

While StartRocket and PepsiCo have both faced criticism for the decision, StartRocket’s leadership has remained steadfast in their support of this move. Alexey Skorupsky, a member of their leadership team, has said that the backlash will most likely die down once people get used to the idea. “If you ask about advertising and entertainment in general — haters gonna hate. We are developing a new medium. At the advent of television, no one loved ads either.”

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