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Space billboards could cost $65 million and still turn a profit

A new study suggests that a billboard-like constellation of about 50 satellites, costing $65 million all-in, could broadcast advertisements to every corner of the Earth for months – and potentially make money doing it. TechCrunch Reports: The study, by Russian researchers from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), presents a pretty compelling case that is bolstered by the recent controversy around SpaceX’s highly visible Starlink satellites. The paper’s proposal is to send a constellation of about 50 satellites to a CubeSat volume of 12U – think the size of a full paper grocery bag. The satellites would enter a sun-synchronous orbit, which means they will always be in direct sunlight as they pass around the Earth. Once in orbit, they would deploy large parabolic reflectors that would bounce sunlight back to Earth. These could be tilted to better present sunlight to a target area over which they pass, and from the ground there would appear to be a cluster of stars moving in synchrony for a period of perhaps three to five minutes. (To be clear, the image at the top is just for illustration – it would look much darker in reality.)

The 50 satellites could rearrange themselves into patterns, from letters to simple graphics — not quickly, but quickly enough that the shape could change over their visibility time or change advertisers between target cities. They would de-orbit after 1-3 months, depending on several factors. I’ve asked the researchers for clarification on battery life, display time, and a few other details and will update this post if I get a response. The physical possibility of doing so does not seem at all far-fetched given the visibility of existing satellites in these orbits and the precision with which they can already be laid out. Thus, having established this, a good part of the article is devoted to an economic analysis. After all, we probably could have launched a Nike logo into space in the 90s (and there were attempts) if the world had come together on it…but why would they? It has to make financial sense.

The cost of the mission is estimated at $65 million, most of which goes to manufacturing the 50 satellites ($48.7 million), then testing, support and engineering ($11.5 million). dollars), and of course at launch ($4.8 million). That sounds pretty reasonable in theory. But that gets a little fuzzy in revenue estimates. A complicated equation to determine which cities, regions and times of the year would make more money suggests that winter offers the best return on investment. You might think: but people stay indoors during the winter. Yes, but not in the tropics and much of South and Southeast Asia, where winter brings longer nights but nothing like the bad weather of northern latitudes. And it just so happens that some of the most densely populated cities in the world are located there. Their most optimistic estimate puts the net revenue at around $111 million, over three months and 24 screens, which equates to around $4.6 million per ad. The Super Bowl commercials cost more and are only 30 seconds long – although of course they are in 4K and color with sound. But the money and appetite for publicity stunts is definitely there.