Japanese billionaire cancels planned Starship lunar mission

ORLANDO, Fla. — A Japanese billionaire who was the first commercial customer for SpaceX’s Starship vehicle has abruptly ended his plans for a pipe-dream circumlunar mission.

In a message on June 1, Yusaku Maezawa announced that he was canceling his “dearMoon” mission, which involved flying him and eight artists around the moon aboard a Starship vehicle. He cited continued delays in the mission and uncertainty over the timing of its launch.

“Arrangements were being made with SpaceX to aim for launch by the end of 2023,” the dearMoon project said in a statement posted on its website. “Unfortunately, however, launching before 2023 has become unfeasible, and without certainty of the near-term timeline, it is with a heavy heart that Maezawa has made the inevitable decision to cancel the project.”

“I signed the contract in 2018 with the assumption that dearMoon would be launched by the end of 2023,” Maezawa job on social networks on June 1st. “I cannot plan for my future in this situation, and I feel bad about keeping crew members waiting, hence the difficult decision to cancel at this point.”

Maezawa was SpaceX’s first announced customer for Starship during a September 2018 event at SpaceX headquarters, back when the vehicle was still known as the BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket. Maezawa made a deposit of an undisclosed amount, which SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk called a “significant amount” and would have “a material impact on the BFR program.”

At the time, the goal was to complete the mission by 2023, but even then, Musk warned that the timeline might not be achievable. “You have to set some sort of date that is the date when things are going well,” he said then. “Of course we have reality, and things don’t go well in reality.”

The spacecraft has yet to fly to the moon, carry people, or even reach orbit. SpaceX is preparing for a fourth Starship/Super Heavy integrated test flight, now scheduled for no earlier than June 6, which will fly the vehicle on a suborbital trajectory with the primary goal of demonstrating that the Super Heavy booster and stage The upper part of the Starship can rise to the surface without first breaking apart.

SpaceX is increasingly working to fly Starship so it can perform a crewed lunar landing for NASA under a Human Landing System contract awarded in 2021. The company is also working to increase the Starship flight cadence to support Starlink satellite launches.

However, Maezawa had also taken time to select the people who would accompany him. It wasn’t until December 2022 that dearMoon publicly revealed the eight people who would accompany Maezawa on the mission, along with two replacements. By that time, however, it was clear that Starship would not be ready to carry out the mission in 2023 or potentially several years later, and the project did not provide a timeline for the mission when it announced the crew.

Some of those selected for dearMoon spoke out on social media after Maezawa announced the cancellation. “We had no prior knowledge of this possibility” said Tim Dodd, a YouTube personality known as “Everyday Astronaut.” “I expressed my opinion, even before the announcement, that DearMoon was unlikely to happen in the next few years.”

He added that he was “extremely disappointed” by the decision. “Little by little, I allowed myself to consider a trip to the Moon, little by little. »

“We were fired, apparently due to impatience” said Rhiannon Adam, an Irish photographer who was the only woman on dearMoon’s core team, who offered a more pointed critique of Maezawa’s decision. “As a critical thinker, a lot of this doesn’t make sense, especially when it comes to timing. I never believed we were going to 2023 or 2024.”

She said she and the others selected for DearMoon were willing to wait but were not consulted by Maezawa before announcing the cancellation. “I doubt the integrity of the project and I feel used.”

Maezawa was able to go to space, but not with SpaceX. In December 2021, he and his assistant Yozo Hirano flew aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, spending a week and a half in space before returning. This mission was organized by Space Adventures, a space tourism company.

There is another commercial Starship lunar mission planned: In October 2022, Dennis Tito, the first commercial space tourist to visit the ISS in 2001, announced that he and his wife would participate in a Starship mission around the moon with up to to 10 other people. Neither he nor SpaceX then announced a date for the mission or provided any updates on its status since then.

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