Google+ Mars Travel: The Airline Precedent for Space Funding

The Airline Precedent for Space Funding

Popular airlines Spirit in the US and Ryanair in Europe have been gaining millions in ad revenue for years by renting empty spaces on and in their aircraft. How does that work? Simple, they set a price and say "Hey, if you pay us $14 million we'll put your logo on the outside of all of our aircraft for a year." They even sell space inside the cabin. According to USA Today they charge "$196,000 for three months of ads on the overhead bins in Spirit's planes, $119,000 for ads on the tray tables or $18,500 for ads on air-sickness bags." The airlines get extra money and the advertisers get more exposure. The problem is that all those ads annoy passengers who don't like being inundated with ads while inside of a plane: one of the last 'safe havens' from the outside world. So while airlines and ad companies are happy, the customers are not.

Selling ad space on and in aircraft may or may not work out because the customers don't like being inundated on planes, but what about on spacecraft? While NASA might have nearly insurmountable restrictions on spacecraft advertising, what about the private industry? What is to stop SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, or any other private space company from renting space on, or in their spacecraft?

How many people follow every space launch? How much exposure and publicity would a company get if they had their logo on the outside of a spacecraft? How much would a company pay for to advertise on one launch? In order to find out we can look back at past advertisements in space.

Bigger missions would obviously garner more public interest, like the landing of Mars Exploration Rover Spirit in January 2004. In less than two days following the touchdown of Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, NASA's homepage received 513 million hits. (Weiss, Computer World) That doesn't include the views from all the other sites that used the photos. While this massive amount of interest is not typical, there are still millions of people that follow every space launch and hundreds of news organizations from local to international that cover each one.

The amount of exposure a company sponsoring a space mission would get is dependent on the size and importance of the mission. If photos of the craft are shown for years and a logo is on the spacecraft, every time the spacecraft is shown the logo could be visible, thus providing exposure. Even if the mission is not as popular there are still many many people who watch each space launch news organizations that report on each one.

Determining the price of advertising on space launches would be a tricky process depending on many factors, including the size of the ad, the magnitude of the mission, and the company providing the hardware. Virgin Galactic might charge more per square foot than SpaceX, or vice versa. Regardless of how the price is calculated, the fact is that advertisements on spacecraft will reach millions of people, even without a separate PR push. Companies are always seeking publicity and private space missions are always lacking in funding. Charging for advertisement space on their spacecraft would be a great way to make additional revenue and help pay for expensive missions.

Pizza Hut Rocket
Space advertising has precedence,but it was always seen as a part of a bigger campaign, not able to provide publicity without a large PR push. In 2001 Pizza Hut paid millions to have their logo on the Soyuz rocket sending supplies to the International Space Station. They used that, and the first 'out of this world' pizza delivery as publicity. In 1996 Pepsi paid the Russian aerospace program a seven-figure sum for them to blow up an inflatable man-sized replica of a soda can aboard the Mir Space Station.

Maybe companies don't think having their logo on a spacecraft will get them enough publicity to be worth the effort, but what if they arranged to sponsor the really big missions? What if SpaceX says they want to send a manned mission to Mars in the next decade, but they need more money. If a company had their logo on the first ship to touch down on Mars, that would gain them exposure and publicity for generations to come.

How much is that worth? How much publicity would they get off that? If Pizza Hut was willing to pay millions for their logo on a routine launch to the space station, how much would a company be willing to pay for their logo on a Mars Mission? Tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars? What about a billion? What if you could pay for the whole mission with advertising space?