Interest in space-themed merchandise remains strong, thanks to a number of factors. In the past year, the inaugural commercial flights of the for-profit space tourism firms Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic, along with frequent news about the International Space Station, have attracted attention. Since early 2020, there has been a pandemic-fueled increase in enthusiasm about space and space travel, as families have embraced new and long-forgotten hobbies, including stargazing. And before the virus hit, the 2019 50th anniversary of the first steps on the moon had sparked renewed curiosity about space.
While consumers’ passion for space never really disappears, with spikes whenever an unusual celestial event occurs, these and other happenings have intensified their affection for the subject in recent years.
Naturally, the strong interest has helped propel the development of licensing programs with space motifs, some tied to space-related IP and others simply incorporating space-themed graphics. The list of initiatives includes official merchandise efforts connected to the leading governmental and commercial space programs:
- Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company owned by Sir Richard Branson, teamed with Under Armour to create a limited-edition capsule of performance hoodies, crew tops, pants, leggings, and t-shirts for men and women in 2021. (Under Armour also made the astronauts’ official flight uniforms and the spaceship’s cabin seats.) The collection was available in Under Armour’s online shop and some of its retail stores. Also in 2021, Virgin Galactic paired with Land Rover, another partner in its flight operations, for an Astronaut Edition of the Range Rover. Virgin was an early entrant into the development of commercial space travel and was already licensing its brand by the mid-2010s, assisted by agencies Fluid World and Brand Central at the time, with licensees such as publisher DK on board.
- The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation has partnered with Beijing Zhongchuang Tourism & Culture Development Co. (ZCTC), which has recently been exhibiting China Aerospace products at licensing trade shows in China. ZCTC also holds licensing rights to Chinese cultural organizations including the Summer Palace, Yongle Palace, and Suzhou Museum, among others.
- Glavokosmos, JSC, the subsidiary responsible for marketing Russia’s state space corporation, Roscosmos, launched an e-commerce website for official merchandise. A wide variety of exclusive products for consumers in Russia and worldwide includes scale Soyuz models, apparel, printed products such as comics and posters, and accessories such as mobile phone covers, all featuring official logos and images associated with current and past missions. The site describes the online store as a new aspect of business for the organization and “an experiment and an unusual experience for our team.”
- SpaceX, the company run by Elon Musk, relies mostly on direct-to-consumer and print-on-demand sites for its merchandise. It has an official store featuring jackets, t-shirts, bags, hoodies, water bottles, posters, mugs, keychains, and patches. Meanwhile, a separate shop operated by fans offers SpaceX merchandise created in collaboration with artists and photographers, including clothing, space lamps, notebooks, ornaments, holiday lights, bracelets, face masks, and other accessories. And third-party POD sites like Teepublic sell t-shirts and a few other items incorporating SpaceX logos. (Teepublic also promotes merchandise tied to NASA and other space-related brands.)
- The European Space Agency retained Rocket Licensing as its new global agent, with plans for apparel, home goods, gifts, toys and games, and publishing, among other categories. The ESA had dipped its toes into licensing before announcing the representation deal in November 2021. In 2019, for example, it partnered with Mattel for a Barbie doll in the likeness of ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.
- Like SpaceX, Blue Origin, headed by Jeff Bezos, maintains merchandise activities that are mostly centered in the on-demand and direct-to-consumer space to date. It makes products available through the likes of Redbubble and Teepublic, as well as selling t-shirts, glasses, bags, scale models, mugs, water bottles, caps, pens, baby bibs, and socks, some of which are mission-specific, on its own online store.
- NASA merchandise has been becoming more ubiquitous each year of late. New official products announced in the last couple of years include a Lego set of the Discovery Orbiter; a branded NFT from Unicorn Watches, designed by Richard Danne, the creator of the NASA logo; a die-cast vehicle of the Mars Perseverance Rover from Hot Wheels; coolers from Igloo; two bracelets from Rastaclat; bedding from Dreamtex; and apparel from Erve Europe. The last two were inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing.