Space marketing is marketing in outer space. A major advantage of space marketing over other Earth-bound methods is the sheer scale of reach. Millions of people across multiple countries can be exposed to an advertisement.
Space marketing may be either obtrusive or non-obtrusive. Obtrusive space marketing is the term used for advertising in space that can be recognized (e.g., skywriting) by people without supporting devices such as telescopes or binoculars. Non-obtrusive space marketing is the opposite. Logos on space suits, satellites, and rockets are examples of non-obtrusive space marketing.
Obtrusive space advertisements orbit the Earth and they are seen in the sky in multiple different countries. Different countries have different advertising regulations which makes it harder for obtrusive space advertisements to remain legal across multiple jurisdictions.
In the US, no FCC license and no FAA launch permit will be issued for activities that involve obtrusive space advertising. This prohibition does not apply to other forms of advertising, such as displaying logos.
The following timeline documents orbital space marketing activities from 1962 to the present.
Tang capitalized on NASA’s use of their product in the space program starting with John Glenn’s Mercury flight in 1962.
Omega capitalized on NASA’s use of their product in the space program starting with project Gemini in 1965.
Fisher Space Pen
Fisher capitalized on NASA’s use of their product in the space program starting with project Apollo in 1967.
Pillsbury capitalized on NASA’s use of their Space Food Sticks product in the space program starting with project Apollo in 1969.
Sony capitalized on NASA’s use of their tape recorder product in the space program starting with project Apollo.
Del Monte capitalized on NASA’s use of their dried fruit products in the space program starting with project Apollo.
M&Ms capitalized on NASA’s use of their candy coated chocolate product in the space program starting with the Space Shuttle in 1981.
Coca-Cola and Pepsi
Coca-Cola was the first to approach NASA about testing a soda dispenser aboard the space shuttle. Given the way that liquids can behave in the microgravity environment of Earth orbit, launching off-the-shelf soda cans or bottles would not work. A mechanism is needed to push or extract the liquid out of the container, but only when desired by the astronaut to avoid making a mess of the cabin. Coca-Cola invested about a quarter of a million dollars to adapt what looked like one of its aluminum cans to hold a laminated plastic bag filled with soda and a carbon dioxide-pressurized bladder to propel the drink out. The can was topped with a metal valve and a drinking spout.
When Pepsi got word that Coca-Cola was going to space, it appealed to NASA to be included on the mission, as well. The agency agreed, but only if Pepsi could develop and deliver a dispenser in time. For its can, Pepsi modified an existing design that it said originally cost $14 million to develop. Similar to the dispensers used to package spray cheese or whipped cream, Pepsi’s space can also used a carbon dioxide-filled pouch to push the soda out, but instead of being pre-pressurized, it employed chemicals to produce the gas.
NASA, seeking to downplay the commercial nature of the payload, referred to the Coke and Pepsi cans as the “Carbonated Beverage Container Evaluation” (CBCE) and relegated the activity to whenever the crew had time between what was the primary focus of the STS-51F mission, advancing the study of solar, atmospheric and astro-physics.
France’s “Ring of Light” project was intended as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the building of the Eiffel Tower. The project involved the launch of a ring of 100 reflectors that would link together, reflecting the sun’s light to become visible for about 10 minutes out of every 90-minute orbital period. It was ultimately called off due to concern that it could interfere with space-related scientific research and widespread criticism.
Tokyo Broadcasting System
The Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) paid approximately $11 million to the Russian space agency for the flight of journalist Toyohiro Akiyama to the Russian space station. The launch vehicle displayed the Tokyo Broadcasting System logo.
Space Marketing Inc.
Space Marketing Inc. proposed launching a billboard into space. The company was ultimately blocked from proceeding with their plan when US legislation was passed which prohibited granting launch licenses for the purpose of putting obtrusive advertisements in space.
House of Representatives members pass legislation 51 USC 50911 to deny launch licenses for the purpose of putting obtrusive commercial advertisements in space.
Columbia Pictures paid $500,000 to promote the movie “Last Action Hero” on the side of a Conestoga launch vehicle.
Pepsi paid approximately $5 million to have a cosmonaut float a replica of the company’s soda can outside the Russian space station.
Israeli milk company Tnuva filmed a commercial for their product on Russian space station. This commercial was broadcast in August 1997 and holds the Guinness World Record for the first advertisement shot in space.
German fashion company Bruno Banani flew an underwear collection called Your Dynamic Underwear to the Russian space station for a cosmonaut to wear during during his daily fitness program. The end result was the company giving the underwear collection a “space-proofed underwear rating”, and claiming the title of “first designer brand in space”.
The “Star of Tolerance” project was intended to be a pair of very large tethered balloons in low orbit which would have become as bright as Venus at maximum. The project was formally intended to celebrate ne fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999. However, the project was considered to be a thinly disguised space advertising enterprise. In the end, the project was abandoned after vigorous international opposition.
Pizza Hut paid approximately $1 million to have their company logo on a Russian Proton rocket launched to the ISS.
Lego sent 300 Alien figures to the ISS. After being returned to earth, they were given away as part of a contest. Lego has a long history of working with NASA on projects that were not necessarily advertising but nevertheless resulted in broad exposure to consumers.
The document makes the following policy recommendations:
The future of astronomy clearly depends on the extent to which it will be possible to limit the degradation of the space environment. Obtrusive space advertising is one such grave concern for the future. Unlike several other forms of adverse environmental impact, however, there is still time for prevention before irreversible damage to astronomy is done.
IAU therefore appreciates and applauds the measures taken by the United States of America to prohibit the granting of a launch licence to any form of such advertising. As outlined above, this measure alone will by no means guarantee that astronomy will be free of interference from activities in space, be it in the optical or in the radio domain. But prohibiting space advertising that would be visible by the vast majority of the world’s population will undoubtedly greatly reduce the financial incentive to engage in such projects. This initiative should therefore be followed up by other spacefaring nations.
Accordingly, IAU recommends for the consideration of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space:
(a) That Member States should be encouraged to adopt similar legislation on obtrusive space advertising, so that this activity is regulated by all space-faring nations;
(b) That international guidelines to limit the
environmental impact of space activities on astronomy be developed by the Committee, in close cooperation with IAU, to ensure that uniform principles are applied to the definition of projects to which this legislation would apply.
Pizza Hut delivered a 6-inch salami pizza to the ISS.
Nissin Foods sent vacuum-sealed Cup Noodles to space that were eaten by cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev for a TV commercial.
RadioShack produced a 30 second commercial which was broadcast nationally in the US ahead of Father’s Day. In the 30-second spot, a cosmonaut on the Russian space station receives a gift from his daughter, a photo of her in a talking picture frame, sold by RadioShack.
“Hey dad, we are wishing you good fortune and success in your job, and good relations with the crew,” his 12 year old daughter says in a message recorded on the interactive frame, her Russian subtitled in English.
Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin hit a golf ball from the ISS as part of a commercial with Element 21. A video of the actual golf swing is available here.
Astro Live Entertainment
Astro Live Entertainment (ALE) plans to offer “Space Entertainment” advertising services to commercial companies such as theme parks, music festivals and cities worldwide. They use satellites to create artificial meteor showers. ALE launched 2 test satellites in 2019 with plans for additional launches.
Astrobotic Technology announced that they will be delivering the Lunar Dream Capsule to the surface of the moon. The sponsor of the mission, Otsuka Pharmaceutical, is the manufacturer of a health drink POCARI SWEAT.
The Lunar Dream Capsule is a time capsule specially designed and developed for delivery to the moon in 2015, with hopes for the future generation to visit the moon to retrieve it. The Lunar Dream Capsule Project will be travelling throughout Japan and selective countries in Asia to collect handwritten messages from people, and the messages will be laser etched onto titanium plates to be packed inside Lunar Dream Capsule. The capsule also contains a powdered form of POCARI SWEAT making the first commercial beverage to land on the moon.
The mission was subsequently canceled.
Lowe’s and Made In Space sent a 3D printer to the ISS. This made Lowe’s the first retailer to have a presence in space. Astronauts can use 3D printing technology to create a tool on-demand and produce parts they may not have onboard.
Small lunar lander with brand advertising. Lunar lander launched in 2022 and is currently in transit to the moon. Landing expected in 2023.
Budweiser is studying how to brew beer in microgravity on the ISS. The marketing message is that Budweiser wants to brew beer in space and be the first brewery on Mars.
SpaceX sent a Tesla Roadster into orbit as the dummy payload for Falcon Heavy test flight.
NASA announced that the space agency will open up parts of the ISS to more commercial opportunities, allowing companies use of the space station’s facilities, including filming commercials or movies against the backdrop of space. A new interim directive from NASA allows private companies to buy time and space on the ISS for producing, marketing, or testing their products. It also allows those companies to use resources on the ISS for commercial purposes, even making use of NASA astronauts’ time and expertise (but not their likeness). This is a significant change for NASA, which has long been against commercializing the ISS. Russia has always been more open to advertising, branding and space tourism on the Russian segments of the ISS.
The Russian branch of PepsiCo Inc. partnered with Russian startup StartRocket for the attempted creation of an orbital billboard. This attempt was ultimately stopped when the plan was denied by PepsiCo’s U.S. Branch.
Columbia Sportswear’s new Omni-Heat Infinity reflective technology will be aboard the Intuitive Machines lunar lander to show off its new material which is tough enough to survive in space. The lunar lander mission is planned for 2023.
Uber Eats became the first food delivery service on Earth to send eatables to the ISS. The delivery was made on December 11 in partnership with Japanese space tourist Yusaku Maezawa, who made the actual delivery.
Geometric Energy Corporation
Geometric Energy Corporation announced plans to launch a space-ad satellite into LEO on a SpaceX rideshare. One side of the satellite will have a display screen where the advertisements, logos, and art will appear. Once in orbit, a selfie-stick attached to the side of the CubeSat will film the display screen. This footage would be livestreamed on YouTube or Twitch so anyone can tune in to watch the satellite’s screen. Originally planned to launch in 2022, but appears to have been canceled.
In 2021, Bryce Tech performed an analysis for NASA to quantify future LEO commercial revenue. Bryce forecast the future (2030+) brand marketing revenue opportunity to be less than $100 million per year.
Impulse Space and Relativity Space
Impulse Space and Relativity Space announced the first commercial mission to the planet Mars. The launch is expected to occur sometime before 2029.
Rocket Lab has announced their intention to send the first private mission to Venus in search of supporting evidence of organic compounds in the cloud layer – traces of life. The goal, using an Electron launch vehicle and Photon spacecraft, is to send a probe to around 30 miles’ altitude, where Venus’ atmospheric conditions are closer to those found on Earth. While more than 30 Venus missions have been undertaken, Rocket Lab’s will be the first private exploration of the planet. The mission is planned to be launched in 2023.
Researchers from Skoltech and MIPT studied the economic feasibility of a space advertising mission that would launch a formation of satellites into orbit to reflect sunlight and display commercials in the sky above cities. Their study considers such factors as satellite fuel consumption, target city population, local advertising costs, arriving at a tentative $65 million estimate for the entire mission cost. They forecast that daily space advertising revenue can reach approximately $2 million, which corresponds to a payback period of about a month. Depending on the number of reconfigurations per day, a formation can operate for several months, making this approach to space advertising feasible.
The Starsphere project is advertised as bringing space closer to everyone and encouraging people to join together to acquire “Space perspectives” (while at the same time enhancing the Sony brand). Individuals and various communities will be connected to space through a satellite that anyone can freely operate and use to take pictures.