The name Jonathan Millbrook probably doesn’t ring a bell yet. This former computer scientist is one of the many who were either smart or lucky enough to mine a large quantity of bitcoins in 2010, and then sold them all at the first peak in December 2017. It made him a billionaire. But instead of buying an island and continue his days in luxury, Jonathan went on a mission to create a projection mapping on the moon.
What gave you the idea?
“Love. It sounds very cheesy but it’s true. I was madly in love with my girlfriend, and I wanted to propose in the most spectacular way possible. I really wanted to write her name in the sky or something like that.
When I looked at the moon, I immediately knew that was what I wanted. I made a lot of enquiries, but everybody I talked to said I was absolutely bonkers to even think it was possible.
I ended up proposing with a drone light show, which was nice but not quite as spectacular as I envisioned it. So I started a quest to make it happen. Ironically, my obsession actually destroyed my marriage. But that’s another story.”
So, how did you end up with Barco?
“I saw Barco’s name pop up in the Guinness Book of Records with some impressive projects. After some extensive research and very long conversations, I decided that Barco were the ones who have what it takes to make my absurd dream come true!”
Wouter, you were the project manager at Barco who handled the request. What were your first thoughts?
“It certainly was a ‘crazy’ idea. But when he explained his plans in detail, showed his studies and talked about the contracts he already signed, we started to realize this guy was serious.
The requirements for this project were – obviously – very much out of the ordinary. Projecting on such a large surface, to be viewed from an extremely large distance… That’s not thinking out of the box, that is thinking without any box at all.
However, it was a project we really couldn’t refuse, so together with our XCITE team, we started to work it out. It took long nights and weekends of work, but Jonathan’s enthusiasm was contagious! And now everything’s in position to make it happen.”
How does it work exactly?
“The core components of the project are what we call the ‘space projectors’. We worked together with a world-renowned space engineering company to develop them.
In fact, they are satellites with purpose-designed projectors (based on the Barco UDM flagship line), some image processing, communication equipment and a power supply on board.
These satellites are in a stationary lunar orbit and cover about 5 million square miles of the moon’s surface (13 million square kilometers), which is 70% of the visible area of the sphere.
Every lunar satellite contains 96 of these projectors, and thus creates 96 pixels. In total, there are 120 satellites, providing 11,520 pixels. That’s more than enough to convey any simple message.”
You talk about purpose-designed projectors. What is so custom about them?
“We needed a lot of brightness output. The light needs to reflect on the moon’s surface (which are grey rocks, not a silver screen), and still be clearly visible on earth. So, the objective was to introduce as few obstructions for the laser-light as possible.
We found a way to eliminate the DLP chips. Our R&D team developed a dedicated lens that preserves the typical high-focus characteristics of laser light.
And, of course, the ideal projection circumstances of space that contains no air or other obstructions.”
Were there special challenges?
“Communication between the different products. Our first plan was to show video as well, but synchronization between the satellites proved to be too difficult. Now we are able to change the complete image every 30 seconds or so, but not faster.”
“The warping was a challenge as well. A sphere is a challenging canvas to project on. A lot of effort went into creating a setup that gives a natural disc-like image, while it’s projected on a ball. The integrated features in our projectors once more proved their worth there!”
You now have this installation in place. When can we expect to see the first show?
“The first big show will be conducted tomorrow on April 1st, at 10PM CET. Several large corporates – of which we can’t disclose the names yet – bought some advertisement space.
Every new moon, the time of the lunar cycle when no sunlight is reflected and the moon is normally invisible, a fleet of ‘space projectors’ will cover the moon’s surface with messages commercial or personal. It’s like an exclusive billboard, which has a global reach! A daring business model, but I do believe in it! And I’m so happy Barco does too!”