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The Russian news agency Interfax reported this week that a Russian investor has patented a concept for advertisements in outer space. The inventor, Alexander Lavryonov, is a little vague regarding how it would work, other than it would require a number of satellites equipped with mirrors to reflect sunlight, spelling out words or forming logos that would be visible to people on the Earth. While the article treats this as a novel concept, the concept of orbiting billboards is nothing new. Over a decade ago Georgia-based Space Marketing proposed placing what essentially would have been a giant Mylar balloon in orbit that, on Earth, would appear to be the size and brightness of the full Moon. Opposition to such a venture was so strong that, for several years, some members of Congress introduced legislation that would ban such advertising. Finally, in 2000 Congress inserted a provision in a NASA authorization bill that forbids the FAA, which also regulates commercial space transportation, from granting a launch license to anyone who planned to launch “obtrusive” space advertising, which the bill defines as any advertising “capable of being recognized by a human being on the surface of the Earth without the aid of a telescope or other technological device.”

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