Space advertising would cost $65 million to set up—and the ads would cost less than Super Bowl commercials

October 6, 2022, 11:09 AM UTC
Flying over USA at night with city light illumination. View from space. 3D render
da-kuk—Getty Images

As flying cars, space tourism, and robot pizza trucks edge toward becoming reality, it feels like we’re living in the future. Now billboards in space might be next on the agenda. 

The concept of advertising in space, although distasteful to some, isn’t a new one, and the technology to do so exists. But considering the sheer amount it was expected to cost, money has been the limiting factor. Now, however, a new study has found that space billboards could actually turn a profit. 

Russian researchers at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) and Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) have calculated that it will cost roughly $65 million to use 50 satellites to create an advertisement visible for months from around the world. 

To get into the specifics, it would involve sending up 12U-CubeSat–volume satellites into sun-synchronous orbit so that they are always in direct sunlight. They would deploy parabolic reflectors to catch the sunlight, thus making them visible from Earth; the satellites would act like pixels, together creating images for a few minutes. 

It sounds futuristic, but making satellites visible from the ground is certainly not impossible, especially since astronomers have already complained strenuously about bright streaks across the sky caused by SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. 

Cost is the key part, and the study estimates that total $65 million expenditure will involve manufacturing the 50 satellites ($48.7 million); testing, support, and engineering ($11.5 million); and launch ($4.8 million). 

Less than $5 million per ad

As for turning a profit, the advertisements would target large cities during their winter months—especially effective in warmer climates where the temperatures don’t send everyone into their homes for shelter. Skoltech and MIPT estimate net income could run to some $111 million, assuming that 24 ads are displayed over the course of three months. That’s $4.6 million per advertisement. 

Compared with what already goes into advertising today, it’s plausible. In 2021, a 30-second Super Bowl commercial cost $5.5 million, while this year that cost soared as high as $7 million

Since space billboards are both technically feasible and economically viable, it all comes down to who will actually be the first to do it—and how many companies will be willing to brave the risk to their reputation. 

Plenty of signs point to SpaceX as pioneering such advertising, as it was reported in 2021 that Geometric Energy Corp. (GEC), a Canadian tech and research startup, was working with Elon Musk’s company to develop a satellite with a large pixelated screen to blast advertising into space (rather than being visible from Earth itself).

If Elon Musk is enthusiastic about that, lighting up the night sky all over the globe might not be far off. 

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