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Japanese Billionaire Cancels Private ‘dearMoon’ Lunar Starship Mission

ByYasmeeta Oon

Jun 5, 2024

Japanese Billionaire Cancels Private ‘dearMoon’ Lunar Starship Mission

The ambitious dearMoon project, commissioned by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa for a private mission around the moon on a SpaceX Starship rocket, has been abruptly canceled. The decision was made due to ongoing uncertainties surrounding the readiness of the launch vehicle.

Key Points of the dearMoon Project Cancellation

  • Project Commissioned: 2018
  • Original Launch Target: End of 2023
  • Primary Reason for Cancellation: Uncertainties about Starship readiness
  • Crew Announced: 2022
  • Project Delay: Indefinitely postponed as of November 2023

In 2018, Maezawa signed a contract with SpaceX, assuming the dearMoon mission would launch by the end of 2023. Initially, the mission was set to be the first human-crewed launch of the Starship rocket around the moon. At that time, the rocket was known as Big Falcon Rocket. The ambitious project was a pioneering venture, marking a significant milestone in private space exploration.

Maezawa announced the eight individuals who would accompany him on this historic journey in late 2022. The crew included notable personalities such as Tim Dodd, known as the Everyday Astronaut, South Korean idol TOP, and music producer Steve Aoki. Despite these announcements and preparations, the mission’s feasibility came into question as Starship had yet to perform an orbital test flight by the target date. Consequently, the project faced indefinite delays.

The sudden cancellation caught some crew members off guard. Tim Dodd expressed his disappointment, stating, “Had I known this could have ended within a year and a half of it being publicly announced, I would’ve never agreed to it. We had no prior knowledge of this possibility. I voiced my opinions, even before the announcement, that it was improbable for dearMoon to happen in the next few years.”

Similarly, Irish photographer Rhiannon Adam, who was also selected for the mission, shared her skepticism: “As someone with a critical brain, much of this doesn’t make sense, particularly with regard to the timeline. I never believed we were going in 2023, or 2024.”

Since the announcement of the dearMoon project, SpaceX has undergone significant changes in its business operations and priorities. Initially, space tourism was seen as a potential funding source for developing the Starship rocket. Although the exact amount paid by Maezawa for the mission remains undisclosed, Elon Musk indicated that it was a “non-trivial amount that will have a material impact” on the rocket’s development costs.

However, SpaceX’s focus has shifted considerably since 2018. The company has achieved numerous milestones, including the certification and launch of its crewed Dragon spacecraft, the deployment of the Starlink satellite internet constellation, and increasing the launch frequency of Falcon rockets to nearly 100 per year by 2023. Furthermore, SpaceX secured a landmark contract from NASA to use a version of Starship as a lunar lander for the Artemis program, significantly influencing its priorities.

The valuation of SpaceX has steadily climbed over the years. At the end of 2018, the company was valued at $30.5 billion. As of the latest reports, SpaceX was considering a tender offer that could value the company at approximately $200 billion. Additionally, Payload Research estimated that SpaceX likely doubled its revenue in 2023 compared to the previous year, reaching $8.7 billion.

YearSpaceX Valuation (Billion USD)Revenue (Billion USD)

Maezawa’s financial situation has also seen significant changes since the dearMoon project’s inception. According to Forbes, his net worth is now $1.4 billion, half of what it was when the project was first announced. Despite this, Maezawa has already experienced space travel, having flown to the International Space Station in a Russian Soyuz capsule in 2021, organized by the private spaceflight company Space Adventures.

  • 2018: dearMoon project commissioned by Yusaku Maezawa.
  • 2022: Crew for the dearMoon mission announced.
  • 2023: Project indefinitely delayed due to Starship’s lack of readiness.
  • SpaceX Milestones:
    • Certification and launch of crewed Dragon spacecraft.
    • Deployment of Starlink satellite internet constellation.
    • Increased Falcon rocket launch frequency.
    • NASA contract for Starship as a lunar lander for Artemis program.
  • Financial Shifts:
    • SpaceX’s valuation increased from $30.5 billion (2018) to $200 billion (2023).
    • Revenue likely doubled in 2023 to $8.7 billion.
  • Maezawa’s Net Worth: Declined from $2.8 billion to $1.4 billion since the project’s announcement.

The cancellation of the dearMoon mission underscores the complexities and uncertainties inherent in pioneering space exploration projects. While the dream of a private mission around the moon remains unrealized for now, the advancements and milestones achieved by SpaceX continue to pave the way for future space travel endeavors. As SpaceX shifts its focus to accommodate NASA’s Artemis program and other significant projects, the potential for private space missions remains a captivating prospect for the future.

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Featured Image courtesy of DALL-E by ChatGPT

Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.

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