That’s why a Japanese billionaire canceled his trip to the moon on board a spacecraft

Zoom in / Elon Musk speaks as Yusaku Maezawa, founder and president of Start Today Co., looks on at an event at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, in 2018.

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On Friday night, Project DearMoon, a plan to launch a Japanese billionaire and 10 other “crew members” on a trip around the moon aboard SpaceX’s Starship vehicle, was abruptly cancelled.

The mission’s official account on the social networking site He said. “We thank everyone who supported us and apologize to those who looked forward to this project.”

Soon after, the project’s financial backer and crew leader, Yusaku Maezawa, clarified that decision about X. When Maezawa approved the mission in 2018, he said, the assumption was that the DearMoon mission would launch by the end of 2023.

“It’s a development project, so it is what it is, but it’s still uncertain when the spacecraft can be launched.” he wrote. “I can’t plan for my future in this situation, and I feel bad about making crew members wait any longer, hence the difficult decision to cancel at this time. I apologize to those who were excited for this project to happen.”

The mission was to be the first human Starship spaceflight to launch from Earth, fly around the Moon and return. Now, that doesn’t happen. Why did this happen, and what does it mean?

Mission assets

Maezawa and Musk made the announcement side by side at SpaceX’s rocket factory in Hawthorne in September 2018. It was a strange but important moment. It seemed important for SpaceX to sign its first commercial contract for the massive Starship rocket. While the value was not disclosed, Maezawa was pumping something in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars into the program.

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However, Maezawa always came across as a bit unserious. He said he would hold a competition to fill 10 more seats on the car. “I didn’t want to go through such a wonderful experience alone,” he said. “I’ll be a little lonely.” Later, he made a choice A crew of creative people.

But at first, Maezawa took the project seriously. When I watched the first Starship hop test in July 2019, there were only a few visitors to watch the short flight of the “Starhopper.” One of them was a representative of Maezawa who was closely monitoring the progress of the spacecraft.

As is the case with large space projects, it was no surprise to anyone that Starship delayed its development. The first test flight doesn’t take place until April 2023, and that’s just the beginning. The DearMoon mission falls at the end of a long series of tests the vehicle must complete: safe launch, controlled flight into space, safe landing of the spacecraft’s upper stage, space refueling, space habitability, and much more.

With the fourth test flight of Starship coming in a few days, as early as June 5, SpaceX has so far demonstrated the ability to launch Starship safely. So it remains at the beginning of a technical journey full of challenges.

turning point

One of the biggest impacts on the DearMoon project came in April 2021, when NASA selected Starship as the lunar lander for the Artemis program. This puts the large vehicle on the critical path for NASA’s ambitious program to land humans on the moon. It also offered an additional $2.9 billion in funding, promising more if SpaceX can deliver a vehicle to take humans to the lunar surface from lunar orbit and back.

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Since then, SpaceX has had two clear priorities for its Starship program. The first is to become operational and begin deploying larger Starlink satellites. The second is to use these flights to test technologies needed for NASA’s Artemis program, such as in-space propellant storage and refueling.

As a result, other aspects of the program, including DearMoon, were de-prioritized. In recent months, it has become clear that if Maezawa’s mission is completed, it will not be completed until at least the early 2030s, at least a decade later than the original plan.

Change of fortunes

Meanwhile, Maezawa’s priorities are also likely to change. According to Forbes, when the plan was announced in 2018, the businessman had a net worth of about $3 billion. today appreciate To be worth only half that. Additionally, he has hatched his desire to go to space in 2021, flying aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on a 12-day journey to the International Space Station.

The writing has been on the wall for a while about Maezawa, ever since SpaceX founder Elon Musk unfollowed the Japanese entrepreneur on X earlier this year. (This is a sure sign of his dissatisfaction. Musk unfollowed me twice on Twitter/X after stories or interactions he didn’t like.) It’s possible that a combination of developmental delay and Maezawa’s personal fortunes led the two sides to disband the project.

All of this leaves a much clearer path ahead for Starship: get up and running, start launching Starlink satellites, and start identifying the technical challenges facing Artemis. Then, several years from now, the company will turn its attention to the challenging prospect of launching humans inside a spacecraft from Earth, then landing back on the planet. The first of those people will be another billionaire, Jared Isaacman, who has already flown aboard the Crew Dragon and is planning at least two more trips before Starship’s flagship mission.

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