Star bucks: An interview with Vlad Sitnikov
Cosmic QR codes, zero-gravity cook offs and orbital fireworks. For StartRocket founder Vlad Sitnikov, the possibilities created from connecting brands to space are as endless as the universe itself. He speaks to Transform about this venture and the ethical considerations that must be grappled with in this new frontier.
What made you want to start an agency which would help put brands in space?
I had two start up ideas with StartRocket. The first was Orbital Display. After that, we had the idea of the Foam Debris Catcher, which is the cheapest way to clean the orbit from space debris. I came up with these ideas and I thought I just have to do it because, at this moment, no agency works with space; it is my dream. I am crazy about science fiction and I am crazy about agencies, so being the first agency to connect brands with space is amazing for me.
Why is now the right time for StartRocket to launch?
Elon Musk raised $750 million and proved that space companies could succeed. Private cosmonautics is knocking on the doors of the first colonies and trading posts beyond Earth. People will start living in orbit and on the Moon in the next decade. The accumulated knowledge on our part, our own projects and ideas, our energy — all this proves that yes, space is the new sex, and it's time to start a new agency, the purpose and intention of which is the cooperation of brands and consumers through/in space.
You mentioned Orbital Display is one of StartRocket’s offerings. What is it?
It is hundreds of satellites connected together – like the wing of an aeroplane – in orbit. Each satellite operates as a pixel and, via lasers, can be viewed across 50 kilometres squared of the Earth’s surface. For example, 200 satellites equal 200 pixels and the idea is that it will show a brand’s logo or message from space for six minutes at a time. It's not easy to send the Orbital Display up there, but it is easy to use it because you are just typing on your laptop at ground control to send messages. It can then be changed quickly.
When I started discussing Orbital Display, I realised it could be used for more than advertising, including entertainment and messaging. For example, it could inform people about what’s happening in the Olympic Games or The Fifa World Cup. As an orbital messenger, it could also be used to alert people when a natural disaster occurs.
There has been push back from people concerned that Orbital Display might violate their sense of normality with brand logos shining in the sky. What would you say to critics?
In the beginning of advertising, people hated it because somebody's trying to interrupt your attention when you are reading your newspaper. Billboards are the same; ugly messages and images on your beautiful street. I compare the idea of Orbital Display with the aeroplane at Malibu Beach, California that flies with branded content. But I want just six minutes, nothing more. An aeroplane over Malibu beach flies for hours.
Your ideas have received relentless criticism, even including death threats. How do you deal with that level of vitriol?
I don't know. When I saw the first hate mail, I had one of the worst days of my life just because I don't really want to harm people. I never did anything bad, but when I got this mail for first time, I was very upset, frankly. But now I think maybe there are some people that hate technology and change, and they just want to give it unfair names. I think all innovation is connected with this mindset, so I have to accept it.
And finally, tell me about some of the other ideas StartRocket is playing around with. I’ve heard you want to actually brand the first act of sexual intercourse in space?
We have some ideas. Six years ago, I proposed to Durex that they facilitate the first act of sex in orbit just because nobody knows whether it would be the first time. There are some rumours about a relationship between a Russian cosmonaut and US astronaut, but they're just rumours. Nobody knows if this is real, but it could be an experiment. We have also thought about the idea of our Orbital Display beaming down cosmic QR codes. There are so many ways that space can be used to sell brands.