If you’re like most people, at some point in your life you’ve lain on your back on the grass at night, and gazed up into the inky, never-ending blackness of the night sky, and marveled at all the stars. While you were losing yourself in vertiginous gazing, I’m sure you were probably thinking “Damn! I sure wish someone was trying to get me to buy something right now!” Well, my good friends with benefits (we’ll talk), I’m pleased to tell you that you’re in luck, because a Russian company called StartRocket has teamed up with PepsiCo to use satellites to display advertising in the night sky. Finally, right?
Yes, thanks to a plan that involves the use of constellations of small cubesats unfurling reflective mylar sails in orbit 280 miles above Earth, you can finally be reminded to buy a new energy drink called Adrenaline Rush, and engage in an advertising “campaign against stereotypes and unjustified prejudices against gamers” because, let’s be honest, gamers are society’s real victims, here.
Here’s a little animation to give you an idea of what this would be like:
The technology seems quite similar to the solar sail experiments that have been conducted by NASA and the Russian Space Agency for quite some time. In fact, a very similar cubesat/solar sail combination is planned to be launched this year by the Planetary Society.
As you might have guessed, astronomers are not happy about the visual pollution of the night sky, and there’s also issues with crowding Earth orbit with even more junk—there’s already 20,000 objects officially cataloged in orbit, and only 10 percent of those are active, operational satellites—the rest is junk: dead satellites, spent booster stages, and, potentially, a bunch of parts of space billboards.
There are some mitigating factors, here: the orbits will decay within a year, and since the satellites rely on reflected light, they’ll only really be visible in the evening and morning.
Conceptually, I’ll admit I kind of like the idea behind these things, and, were it being used for some sort of limited-life art installation in the sky or something along those lines, I’d be excited about it.
But putting something in orbit just to remind us there’s some new energy drink we could be buying, swallowing, and transforming into hot columns of vivid-yellow urine? No thanks.
One of the most underrated parts about stargazing is that no one is trying to sell you something. We don’t have to give that up.