Russian startup developing billboard that will beam ads from space

For anyone who’s ever marveled over outer space for its purity, bereft of earthly annoyances such as traffic jams, bill collectors and the constant barrage of advertisements, Russian entrepreneur Vladilen Sitnikov has a spoiler.

Sitnikov, the CEO of the start-up StartRocket, is proposing giant billboards in space that will beam advertisement to earthlings.

His plan is to use hundreds of small satellites to form a giant billboard that will orbit around the Earth. Advertisements could range from commercial to government messages, among other things, he told Newsweek.

“New ages demand new gods,” he told Reuters.

The businessman has been working with the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology in Moscow on a protoype that could be ready for a test next year.

There are a great many questions about the project. Among them are if it will work, Newsweek noted, and if there are any international regulations that would hamper or outright forbid such a project from taking off.

Astronomers are not taking too kindly to the thought of advertising in space.

“It might be a good starting point to re-examine the whole nature of regulation of space activity,” said Christopher Newman, a professor of space law at Northumbria University in Britain.

Astronomer Patrick Seitzer from the University of Michigan wonders if all the tiny satellites will be able to stay in formation.

“Active propulsion will be necessary,” Seitzer told Astronomy Magazine. “The large Mylar sails will be effective as drag sails, and thus the CubeSats will decay from orbit in a short time. Thus, one has to constantly replenish the constellation.”

He added that the billboard might not be visible at certain times.

“You’ll never see them at midnight, for example,” he said. “Depending on the orbit chosen, they might be visible for a few days, and then not visible for a week or more.”

Astronomer John Barentine, from the International Dark-Sky Association, told Astronomy Magazine he worries about how the celestial billboards might affect astronomical research.

“Every one of those moving blips of light in the night sky is something that can interfere with our ability to collect photons from astronomical sources,” he said.

Others worry about pollution.

“Launching projects like this with no commercial, scientific, or national security value seems unwise,” Seitzer said. “Space is getting increasingly crowded. There are over 20,000 objects with orbits in the official public catalog maintained by the U.S. Air Force. Less than 10 percent of those objects are active satellites—the rest are dead satellites, old rocket bodies and parts of spacecraft.”

For all the criticism, StartRocket had quite an earthling response:

Alexey Skorupsky, a member of StartRocket, said: “Haters gonna hate.”

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