SpaceX has partnered with the Canadian engineering firm Geometric Energy Corporation (GEC) and Pointblank LLC to launch a CubeSat capable of displaying banner ads from orbit as part of GEC’s Rideshare program. The CubeSat-based billboard system is expected to launch as early as 2022.
The GEC is still working on the quantum communications system that will allow instantaneous information transfers across large distances. Quantum communication is a more secure way to send communications over a network by making use of the quantum state of particles. Any attempt by an unauthorized party to intercept the communications will cause the data’s “quantum state” to change to a plain 1 or 0 and be instantly detectable to the receiving device. (This may remind you of Schrödinger’s cat, in which the state of the cat is theoretically both “alive” and “dead” until it is observed by someone outside the box.)
Pointblank is working on epaper performance in low-to-no atmosphere environments for the project. Epaper, or “electronic paper,” mimics the natural appearance of ink on paper. Ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle make use of Epaper technology for their displays.
The price of advertising on the CubeSat billboard will be paid with a blockchain-based token. GEC plans to get up to $972,000 per month just for having its billboard above a major city the size of Tokyo. The billboard is expected to rotate around the target city once every 90 minutes, which is about the same amount of time that it takes the International Space Station to make one revolution around Earth.
GEC is, in fact, the first company to pay SpaceX for the launch of a satellite in cryptocurrency – Dogecoin, naturally. The cryptocurrency-funded mission, labeled “DOGE-1,” will send a 40-kilogram CubeSat into lunar orbit as part of SpaceX’s ride share program. The mission will test some of the technology behind the billboard in space by sending a “Space Art” CubeSat to the Moon.
The concept of billboards in space is not a new one. A Russian company named StartRocket proposed having a constellation of satellites that could display logos like the ones for Pepsi and Coke in the night sky in 2019. The plan was only to operate them for a year.
Of course, skywatchers and astronomers were annoyed by the idea of having a lit-up advertisement in the night sky. University of Michigan astronomy professor Patrick Seitzer blasted the idea for its potential to both interfere with astronomical observations and add to the “space junk” problem.
“Launching art projects like this with no commercial, scientific, or national security value seems unwise. … 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,” he said at the time.
Anyway, a company could buy a traditional billboard beside a busy section of interstate for about the same price as advertising on GEC’s space billboard. The billboard would also be less of a nuisance to astronomers and astrophotographers who might be annoyed by an advertisement getting in the way of their view when they are trying to take sensitive images of the night sky.