Japanese Billionaire Scraps SpaceX Moon Tourist Flight Due to Delays

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Key Takeaways

  • Yusaku Maezawa canceled the dearMoon mission due to delays and uncertainties with SpaceX's Starship launch timeline.
  • Starship faced technical issues in three test flights, with a fourth test flight scheduled for June 6, 2024, aiming to demonstrate improved capabilities.
  • SpaceX successfully launched the Crew Dragon, expanded the Starlink project, increased Falcon rocket launches, and shifted focus to NASA’s Artemis program.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has canceled the highly anticipated dearMoon project, a private lunar mission with SpaceX.

He stated that he had only signed the contract in 2018 under the impression that SpaceX’s Starship would launch at the end of 2023. However, with the uncertain launch timeline, he decided to cancel the project.

dearMoon project

The dearMoon project, announced in 2018, was the world’s first civilian circumlunar voyage aboard SpaceX’s space vehicle, Starship.

Japanese entrepreneur Maezawa purchased all the seats aboard this rocket and recruited eight crew members from across the world for a week-long journey to the Moon and back. Most of them were artists who would share their experiences in space with the rest of the world.

The idea was that the target date for launch was the end of 2023. However, Starship encountered several setbacks.

To date, Starship has conducted three test flights: in April 2023, November 2023, and March 14 of this year:

  • First Test Flight: Lasted only 4 minutes due to stage separation failure.
  • Second Test Flight: The Starship reached orbit before likely self-destructing after losing contact despite the Superheavy booster’s explosion.
  • Third Test Flight: Reached orbital velocity but ended with the upper stage breaking apart upon reentry.
  • Fourth Test Flight: SpaceX targets June 6, 2024, for Starship’s fourth test flight. This flight aims to demonstrate Starship’s capabilities further by achieving a controlled entry and landing. The primary objectives include executing a landing burn and soft splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico for the Super Heavy booster, as well as a controlled reentry for the upper stage.

Ultimately, without clear schedule certainty in the near term, Maezawa canceled the dearMoon project.

dearMoon Crew

These were the people meant to be aboard the rocket for the journey:

  • Steve Aoki
  • TOP (Choi Seung Hyun)
  • Yemi A.D.
  • Rhiannon Adam
  • Tim Dodd
  • Karim Iliya
  • Brendan Hall
  • Dev D. Joshi

Backup crew:

  • Kaithlyn Farrington
  • Miyu

Crew Reactions

The crew expressed their disappointment in the decision.

Science communicator and YouTuber Tim Dodd said:

“Of course, I’m extremely disappointed, having dreamt about this mission since I first heard about it in 2018 and even more for the last three years since the selection process started. I slowly allowed myself to envision a trip to the Moon one little bit by a little bit.”

He also voiced his opinion that it was improbable for dearMoon to happen in 2023, as envisioned, but he was unaware that the cancellation was possible.

Irish photographer Rhiannon Adam was cutting in her comments about the mission:

“We’re dealing with a billionaire who just changed his mind or got bored of waiting – and that’s an all too familiar story, sadly. I’ve spent time speculating on the what and the why, but none of that matters now.”

SpaceX’s Progress and Challenges

Since 2018, SpaceX has made important progress, although there have been challenges.

The company successfully developed and launched the Crew Dragon spacecraft, which launched astronauts to the International Space Station, starting a new era in American spaceflight and restoring the US to its leadership in manned space missions.

Additionally, SpaceX’s Starlink project has changed global internet access. With thousands of satellites launched, Starlink aims to provide high-speed internet to underserved areas worldwide, showing SpaceX’s ability in large-scale satellite deployment.

Another major achievement is the increased launch frequency of the Falcon rockets.

In 2023 alone, SpaceX conducted nearly 100 launches, proving their reliability and efficiency. This impressive track record has made SpaceX a major player in the commercial launch market, attracting clients from both government and private sectors.

SpaceX’s focus shifted significantly with NASA’s important contract to use a version of Starship as a lunar lander for the Artemis program. This contract highlights the critical role Starship will play in NASA’s plans to return humans to the Moon — the Artemis program’s success depends on Starship’s development.