Ad-block this: Space billboards could soon be coming to London’s skies

The cost of £58 milion to beam ads from groups of satellites in Space is sky high  (Airbus/PA)
The cost of £58 milion to beam ads from groups of satellites in Space is sky high (Airbus/PA)

Oscar Wilde famously wrote, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

Well, we can all look at the stars for now - but that may not always be the case, because researchers have reportedly found a way to display advertising billboards in Space.

Researchers from Moscow’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology say sun-reflecting satellites could be arranged into different positions in the sky, to form images and words, and think they might even be profitable for the advertisers running them when displayed over big cities like London.

“We’ve been studying some of the more technical aspects of Space advertising for a while now,” study co-author Shamil Biktimirov, a research intern at Skoltech’s Engineering Center, said in a release. “This time, we looked at the economic side of things and, as unrealistic as it may seem, we show that Space advertising based on 50 or more small satellites flying in formation could be economically viable.”

So the researchers carried out a study to come up with a price tag for the stunt, undoubtedly hoping to hook one of the few multinational companies able to afford such an advertising folly.

The bill, estimated at $65 million (£57.8 m) for a mission lasting several months, might seem sky-high, but it pales in comparison to the $400 million (£356 m) that Barclays paid to name the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets arena, although at least the bank is getting 20 years’ worth of sponsorship out of that deal.

Super Bowl half-time show sponsorships, on the other hand, reportedly go for between $25 million (£22.2 m) to $50 million (£44.4 m), but last only 15 minutes. Spaces ads suddenly look pretty appealing for big-spending companies, if the sky is dark enough when they are screened.

Understandably, astronomers studying the skies are not the only ones with potential worries for a sky full of satellite-powered billboards. To be fair, London’s light-pollution scourge might turn out to be a blessing here, since the ads might look faded, given the strength of night-time lighting in the city.

But Space billboards might not even be London’s first foray into light pollution from ads. That’s because the MSG Sphere, proposed by US entertainment company Madison Square Garden, is set to descend on Stratford, beaming advertisements day and night. Its Big Ben height and London Eye width will all but ensure the ensuing light pollution will be visible from farther than just its surrounding area.

Profiting from the sky?

The researchers even found that an ad buyer could actually recoup costs within a month of launching a Space ad campaign.

They said daily revenue generated from the ads could top $2 million (£1.8 m), which would result in breakeven for the company should they choose to display the ads every day, whether over the same city or between different ones. A UK-wide Space advertising campaign, anyone?

Luckily, the researchers said that, because of the nature of relying on the sun for reflection, the satellites would only display the ads during sunrise or sunset, supposedly reducing any light pollution.

Hopefully, though, the currently astronomical fuel prices might deter would-be advertisers from their next Space adventures. At least for the time being.