When was the last time we launched something into space, like a satellite, or a telescope?
The answer is last weekend. Russia and Germany just launched an Xray space telescope. And in about a week, three crew members will head to the International Space Station. SpaceX will launch thousands of pounds of supplies to follow them.
The only reason I know any of this is because of Supercluster, a new media experiment built to get people excited about space again, and, sure, make some money in the process. It’s a collaboration between entertainment studio A24 (Moonlight, Eighth Grade) and creative agency GrandArmy—launched in a sponsorship partnership with Dropbox.
“The problem with space exploration right now is people feel so disconnected from it,” says Supercluster‘s Chief of Content, Robin Seemangal, who has spent the past four years reporting at the Kennedy Space Center. Indeed, the golden age of space exploration seems to be over, as the moon landing was 50 years ago now and the government has cut funding to NASA. But that doesn’t mean we’re done with space. “Right now the space industry is moving to the private sector,” says Seemangal, citing the efforts of billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. That makes space the kind of news you might read about in Fast Company, as Musk’s SpaceX signs more contracts, but the treatment of space as a business endeavor can undercut the natural wonder of humanity’s exploring the stars.
Supercluster‘s design and content are both meant to rekindle that spark. “The goal of Supercluster was never to be another science or tech blog. We wanted to bring back a sense of adventure and excitement to stories of outer space, for the average person who might not consider themselves a fan,” says Eric Collins, partner at GrandArmy. “We believe great art and design can help reach those other audiences and create new space fans, with the same passion the public felt during the Apollo Era.”
The editorial stories have high-contrast art and sometimes even psychedelic imagery that mixes the wildness of net art with the stoicism of 1950s graphics. But the site’s pièce de résistance is the Launch Tracker, which features a list of each upcoming space launch and a ticker counting down the minutes to the next trip, all presented with a clean, modernist look.
“Our website, it’s so broad, where an individual or someone interested in space at any level can come to our site to enjoy something,” says Seemangal. “If you want to know the next launch, or where SETI is on the search for alien life, you can do either-or. Space exploration isn’t one thing. It’s a million things. It’s so multifaceted.”
Supercluster is not just a passion project for a pair of creative companies, though. It’s a shrewd business play for brand partnerships, and perhaps sponsored content (stories paid for by brands, which subsidizes much of the journalism industry at the moment), as the private sector increases its investment into space but there’s no de facto publication about space to fill the niche. Simultaneously, Supercluster has a strong offline component. It has printed thousands of posters and viewing guides for launches, which have sold out. In the future, the brand is planning to sell apparel, patches, zines, prints, and limited edition products.
Which is to say, Supercluster looks very much like a modern media brand by almost every measure. Publications have been forced to diversify revenue streams from advertisers. It’s why Buzzfeed makes pans now, and the New York Times gets commission from Amazon on suggested products. (Fast Company uses Amazon affiliate links, too, and has a sponsored content department.) Supercluster‘s familiar revenue model may or may not be a good thing, given that publishing is a very uncertain industry at the moment. But it also may be why A24 and GrandArmy are calling the project an “experiment.” Because in space as in publishing, you reach for the stars, but there’s always a risk to crash and burn.