Japanese billionaire cancels private flight around the moon on SpaceX's Starship

Japanese billionaire cancels private flight around the moon on SpaceX's Starship
Image Source: SpaceXBy Thu, 06 Jun 2024 02:05:52 GMT

On Friday night, the dearMoon project—a groundbreaking initiative to send Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and 10 other individuals on a circumlunar flight aboard SpaceX's Starship—was abruptly canceled. This decision marks a significant setback in the burgeoning field of space tourism, leaving many to wonder about the future of private space exploration.

The announcement of the dearMoon project's cancellation was made on the project's official account on the social media platform X. "It is unfortunate to be announcing that 'dearMoon', the first private circumlunar flight project, will be cancelled," the statement read. "We thank everyone who has supported us and apologize to those who have looked forward to this project."

Shortly after this announcement, Yusaku Maezawa, the project's financial backer and crew leader, provided further insight into the decision. Maezawa explained that when he agreed to the mission in 2018, it was with the expectation that the dearMoon mission would launch by the end of 2023. However, ongoing developmental delays with SpaceX's Starship made it impossible to guarantee a launch date.

Reasons Behind the Cancellation

The dearMoon mission was intended to be the first human spaceflight aboard Starship, which would launch from Earth, orbit the Moon, and return. Despite initial optimism, the project faced numerous delays. When the mission was first announced in 2018, both Maezawa and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk were optimistic about the timeline. However, as with many large-scale space projects, unforeseen technical challenges emerged.

SpaceX's Starship program has experienced significant developmental delays. The first test flight did not occur until April 2023, and subsequent tests have continued to highlight the technical challenges of developing such a sophisticated spacecraft. The mission faced additional delays due to the re-prioritization of SpaceX's goals, particularly after NASA selected Starship as the lunar lander for its Artemis Program. This decision injected $2.9 billion into the project and shifted SpaceX's focus towards supporting NASA's ambitious lunar missions.

Since the project's announcement in 2018, Maezawa's net worth has notably declined. However, he has already had the opportunity to experience space travel. In December 2021, he spent 12 days on the International Space Station, traveling there aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. This journey might have impacted his decision to cancel the dearMoon project, as it allowed him to achieve his personal dream of going to space.

The cancellation also affected the eight artists and creators selected to join Maezawa on the dearMoon mission. These individuals, including YouTube creator Tim Dodd and DJ Steve Aoki, had been eagerly preparing for the journey. Dodd expressed his disappointment on X, stating, "I'm extremely disappointed, having dreamt about this mission since I first heard about it in 2018 and even more for the last 3 years since the selection process started."

Future of SpaceX's Starship

With the dearMoon project canceled, SpaceX can now focus on its immediate priorities: becoming operational, deploying larger Starlink satellites, and meeting NASA's requirements for the Artemis Program. The company's next major milestone will be the fourth test flight of Starship, which is expected to launch as early as June 5, 2024. This test is crucial for demonstrating the technologies needed for in-space refueling and other critical aspects of NASA's lunar missions.

Looking ahead, the next private mission aboard Starship will likely involve another billionaire, Jared Isaacman, who has already flown on SpaceX's Crew Dragon. Isaacman plans at least two more flights before embarking on a pioneering Starship mission.