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NASA astronaut Dale Gardner jokingly advertises a recovered defective satellite as being "for sale" during a space walk.
NASA astronaut Dale Gardner jokingly advertises a recovered defective satellite as being "for sale" during a space walk.
Astronaut Tony England drinking a soda. Inadvertent space advertising can include product placement in missions with resulting television exposure.
Astronaut Tony England drinking a soda. Inadvertent space advertising can include product placement in missions with resulting television exposure.

Space advertising is advertising in space. There have been several proposals to advertise in space, with some even planning to launch billboards that would be visible from Earth. Space advertising may be obtrusive or non-obtrusive.

Obtrusive space advertising is the term used for ads in space that can be recognized (e.g. skywriting) by people without supporting devices such as telescopes or binoculars.[1][2] Non-obtrusive space advertising is the opposite. Logos on space suits, satellites, and rockets is an example of Non-obtrusive space advertising.[1]

Advertising in space can cause space debris, as well as obscuring the view of space as seen from the ground. This form of advertising is regulated by international and national legislation, and as technology improves further regulations will be required to address and encompass new forms of space advertising. While space advertising is limited by both contemporary regulation and technological capability, in popular culture, space advertising has taken a variety of forms and displays.

History

Beginning in the 1990s, when space technology began its privatization, after the Space Race and the fall of the Soviet Union,[3] space advertising became a point of interest for various organizations. There have been numerous attempts at space advertising since then, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch of a Tesla car into orbit.[4][5]

A major advantage of space advertising over other Earth-bound methods is the sheer scale of reach. Millions of people across multiple countries can be exposed to an advert orbiting Earth. As such, space advertising can provide valuable advertising capabilities, though relatively high start-up costs have prohibited this from becoming a commonplace mode of advertisement.[6][7]

Attempts

The high cost of orbital spaceflight (millions per launch) has discouraged attempts in the past.[8] Public space exploration authorities have also been reluctant to cater to advertisers. For example, NASA's restrictive policy on its employees' endorsing of products required astronauts to refer to M&M's as "candy-coated" chocolates.[9][10]

Successful attempts

Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster mounted on Falcon Heavy upper-stage; Earth in the background.
Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster mounted on Falcon Heavy upper-stage; Earth in the background.

There is a low number of successful advertising projects, particularly due to the high orbital launch costs and the advertisement maintenance costs over time.[11] In context, SpaceX's base fares for sending objects into space are already in the millions,[12][13] thus there have not been many attempts and fewer successful ones. From the few successful launch and deployment attempts, even fewer companies have gained the expected publicity and impact; Elon Musk is one such exception in sending out a Tesla Roadster into space.[4]

Some of the successful attempts include:

Failed attempts

Although the number of attempts at space advertising is not significant, there have been several notable failed attempts as companies and organizations around the world planned different projects to launch some type of marketing ploy into space.

Some of the failed attempts that have occurred in the past include:

Challenges

Regulation

One of the challenges of obtrusive space advertising is the difference in marketing regulations across different countries. Because obtrusive space advertisements orbit the earth, they are seen in the sky in multiple different countries. In the EU, advertisers are banned from running tobacco related advertisements. In Ireland, advertisements that undermine public authority are also outlawed. (Bunreacht na hÉireann, 1937, Art. 40.6.1). Countries like the United States on the other hand prioritize freedom of commercial speech. These differences in advertising regulations make it harder for obtrusive space advertisements to remain legal across multiple jurisdictions.[1]

In the United States, consumers have the right to deny the receipt of advertisement. It is not clear whether or not consumers can effectively opt out of receiving space advertisements. Consumers might have to close their blinds, doors, or not look into the sky to not view space advertisements.[1]

Infringements on property rights also create a challenge for space advertisers. Since space advertisements could be bright lit, it might create nuisance for property owners. Bright objects in the sky might interfere with sleep cycles for some property owners.[1]

Astronomical observations

Astronomy is very sensitive to bright light sources in the sky. The international astronomical organization argues that artificial satellites built out of reflective material adversely impact their observations. Space objects are deemed to be much brighter and larger than artificial satellites that are used for communication purposes. Obtrusive space advertisements that are comparable to the brightness of the moon have the potential to make the observation of faint distant objects impossible from the surface of the earth.[30]

Space debris

Anything that is launched into orbit generally remains in orbit. Space objects that have surpassed their functional use period not equipped with deorbiting technology are considered space debris. Space debris can lead to collisions with other space objects which can contribute to a cascading increase in space debris known as the Kessler syndrome. Increasing amounts of space debris can make space exploration and utilization of LEO more difficult.[31]

Space advertisers could face penalties if the advertisements are considered to eventually become space debris. Because objects in orbit can remain in orbit for long periods of time, it is possible that the object remains in orbit longer than the advertising entity still exists. If approved, obtrusive space advertisers can expect to comply with end-of-life deorbiting measures and anti-collision measures.[31]

Regulations

While space advertising is a relatively new concept, it is subject to a some international treaties and national policies either specifically on space advertising or space commercial activities.

For obtrusive advertising

For non-obtrusive advertising

Criticism

Obstacles

There is also growing concern about the dangers that can be caused by launching more objects - including advertisements - in space. Placing more satellites in space could increase opportunities for satellite collisions, as stated by John Crassidis, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University at Buffalo. He believes that the biggest issue will be how the additional satellites can potentially become space debris.[46] An implication of the additional advertising satellites in space could contribute to the Kessler syndrome. Many other incidents of space collisions have occurred:

Pollution

Aside from the danger that can be brought about with increasing space advertising, pollution is also another problem. A paper that was presented to the United Nations by International Astronomical Union stated that "Scattered light from sunlit spacecraft and space debris, and radio noise from communications satellites and global positioning systems in space, reach the entire surface of the Earth”.[48] Furthermore, there is currently no international consensus on the best way to remove the space debris since space in the international territory and so the increase in space debris will also make space even more impenetrable because of the increased likelihood of collision which can deter future space missions.[49]

In popular culture

This article appears to contain trivial, minor, or unrelated references to popular culture. Please reorganize this content to explain the subject's impact on popular culture, providing citations to reliable, secondary sources, rather than simply listing appearances. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2019)

Advertising in outer space or space flight has been featured in several science fiction books, films, video games, and television series, and frequently in the animated series Futurama. They are usually shown as a satire of commercialization.

Film

Literature

References

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