Why there will soon be commercials in space

Unless you’re a big (very) big sci-fi fan, you probably don’t want brands beaming ads into the sky, via satellites. But some companies may find this a good idea.

And if you think it’s not technically feasible yet, you’re probably wrong. As the TechCrunch site points out, existing satellites are clearly visible to the naked eye and can be positioned with great precision.

Assuming this is technically feasible, Russian researchers from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) analyzed the economics of such a project. What we can conclude from this study is that given the costs, brands would be willing to pay for this unprecedented visibility, and that the activity would allow significant profits.

About fifty satellites to broadcast an announcement

The system devised by the researchers consists of sending a constellation of 50 satellites corresponding to a 12U CubeSat volume, the size of a supermarket bag. These satellites would be put into orbit in such a way as to capture sunlight and reflect it towards the target cities of the ads.

These satellites can be arranged to form a logo, letters, etc., to display the advertising message in a certain place. And these would be desorbed after 1-3 months.

Russian researchers estimate the cost of this mission at $65 million, including $48.7 million to build 50 satellites and $4.8 million to launch.

Calculating potential revenue was more complicated, as many parameters come into play in the advertising market. In their publication, the researchers explain that the calculation takes into account parameters such as the population of the target area or the cost of advertisements in this area, without forgetting the useful life of the satellites (if they remain in orbit longer, they will be able to show more ads).

An activity that would be profitable

In any case, for the most optimistic scenario, the researchers estimate that a mission could display 24 different images and generate revenue of $111.6 million. On average, that’s almost $4.6 million per ad. It sounds excessive, but it’s cheaper than a few seconds during the US Super Bowl.

“An unrealistic idea at first glance, space advertising turns out to have the potential for commercial viability”, we can read in the publication. This also reminds us that the transmission of messages from space has already been considered in the past.

The study also estimates that the mission would not interfere with astronomical observations. In fact, it could only show ads at specific times, at sunrise or sunset due to the geometry of the orbit. Therefore, the night display is excluded.

On the other hand, the ads only targeted densely populated cities, for economic reasons. However, these are already subject to significant light pollution and are not conducive to observations in any case.

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