Japanese Billionaire Cancels Private ‘dearMoon’ Lunar Mission

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The Japanese billionaire who arranged for a private SpaceX mission around the moon on a Starship rocket has unexpectedly called off the venture, citing ongoing uncertainties regarding the launch readiness of the vehicle.

“I signed the contract in 2018 with the expectation that dearMoon would launch by the end of 2023,” Yusaku Maezawa, the project’s supporter, stated on X. “It’s a developmental project, so it is what it is, but it remains uncertain when Starship can launch.”

The dearMoon mission was first revealed in 2018—when Starship was known as Big Falcon Rocket—and was intended to be the initial Starship launch to transport humans around the moon and back. At that time, both parties aimed for the 240,000-mile journey to happen as early as 2023.

In late 2022, Maezawa announced the eight individuals who would join him on the mission, including Everyday Astronaut’s Tim Dodd, South Korean idol TOP, and music producer Steve Aoki. Despite this, the dearMoon website still maintained the 2023 launch timeline; however, four years after the project’s announcement, it became evident that the targeted launch date was unrealistic, especially since Starship had not yet conducted a single orbital test flight. The project was postponed indefinitely in November of last year.

The cancellation appeared to surprise some crew members. “Had I known this might end within a year and a half of its public announcement, I would’ve never agreed to it,” Dodd stated. “We had no prior knowledge of this possibility. I expressed my doubts, even before the announcement, that it was unlikely for dearMoon to launch in the upcoming years.”

Irish photographer Rhiannon Adam, also selected for the mission, was more critical: “As someone with a critical mindset, much of this doesn’t make sense, particularly concerning the timeline. I never believed we were going in 2023, or 2024,” she noted.

Reports at the time indicated that SpaceX was exploring space tourism as a means to fund the development of the massive and highly complex rocket. Although neither SpaceX nor Maezawa have disclosed the substantial down payment amount for the flight, Musk mentioned during the mission’s announcement that it was “a significant sum that will materially impact” the rocket’s development costs.

However, SpaceX’s business model has evolved significantly since 2018: the company has achieved multiple impressive milestones, including certifying and flying its crewed Dragon spacecraft for astronauts, launching its Starlink satellite internet constellation, and increasing the Falcon rocket launch frequency to nearly 100 per year in 2023. (The company is set to surpass its own record this year.)

The company also secured a major contract from NASA to utilize a version of Starship as a lunar lander for the agency’s Artemis program, undoubtedly shifting SpaceX’s priorities moving forward. Space tourism had to be deprioritized in favor of the interests of their largest single customer.

SpaceX’s valuation has steadily grown, with investor enthusiasm for SpaceX stocks appearing almost insatiable. At the end of 2018, the company was valued at $30.5 billion; as of last month, it was reportedly considering a tender offer that could place the company’s value at around $200 billion. Meanwhile, Payload Research, a space research and news organization, estimated that SpaceX likely doubled its revenue in 2023 compared to the previous year, reaching $8.7 billion.

It appears Maezawa’s fortune has also shifted. According to Forbes, his net worth now stands at $1.4 billion, which is half of what it was when dearMoon was announced. Maezawa did manage to fulfill some of his space aspirations in 2021 by flying in a Russian Soyuz capsule on a 12-day trip to the International Space Station with the private spaceflight company Space Adventures.

Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei
Aria Alamalhodaei covers the space and defense industries. Previously, she covered the public utilities and the power grid for California Energy Markets. You can also find her work at MIT’s Undark Magazine, The Verge, and Discover Magazine. She received an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. Aria is based in Austin, Texas.

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