Elon Musk’s First Starship Customer Calls it Quits

Elon Musk’s First Starship Customer Calls it Quits

The first customer to buy a flight on Elon Musk’s Starship rocket is calling it quits. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa said today it is taking too long for Starship to be ready to send him and a group of companions around the Moon and he needs to get on with his life. His “Dear Moon” project has come to an end.

Musk and Maezawa announced the deal with great fanfare in 2018. At the time, Starship — then called BFR for Big Falcon Rocket — was little more than a gleam in Musk’s eye, but they set 2023 as the launch date.

Starship has come a long way since then, with three Integrated Flight Tests in the past year and another coming up soon, but it has a long way to go until it can send anyone or anything around the Moon. Not only has it not achieved orbit yet, but reaching the Moon requires refueling in Earth orbit. No earth-orbiting fuel depots exist yet, nor has anyone ever transferred cryogenic fuels in microgravity.

Those are steps SpaceX still needs to demonstrate and Maezawa doesn’t want to wait any longer.  In posts on the DearMoon website and X, he apologized to those who had agreed to travel with him or otherwise supported the project.

Maezawa, who goes by MZ, announced his circumlunar traveling companions in December 2022, but apparently did not notify them of the change in plans in advance.

Yusaku Maezawa, center, and the companions he chose in 2022 to accompany him on a Starship trip around the Moon.

Photographic artist Rhiannon Adam, posted a long, melancholy thread on X (@blackbirdsfly) saying in part that she is “left with a bitter taste of an empty void that could have been filled with something worthwhile. If our trip had been cancelled because of a seismic shift in perspective, I’d have gotten it”… “But instead, it was cancelled because MZ wanted to move on. And in the process wasted two years of our lives and shattered dreams.”

Tim Dodd, who calls himself the Everyday Astronaut (@erdayastronaut), was somewhat more philosophical saying “of course I’m extremely disappointed” but “part of me doesn’t feel I’m entitled to grieve since I wasn’t entitled to this mission in the first place.”  Nonetheless, “unfortunately now every time I look at the Moon, it’s a painful reminder of dreams lost. But I will continue on as I always have, one giddy rocket nerd who’s here to witness history, absorb as much knowledge as I can, and break down what I learn for my fellow everyday person.”

Whatever financial arrangements Maezawa had with Musk are not public.

Maezawa did make a spaceflight, just not around the Moon. He and his production assistant, Yozo Hirano, visited the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2021. Apparently that satisfied his spaceflight curiosity.

Yusaku Maezawa, right, and his Soyuz MS-20 crewmates Yozo Hirono (his production assistant), left, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin, center.

Starship does have other customers. American billionaire Jared Isaacman bought the first crewed trip to Earth orbit and Dennis Tito and his wife bought two seats on a future circumlunar flight.

Starship’s biggest customer, other than SpaceX itself, is NASA. In 2021, NASA chose Starship as the first Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis program. After the NASA astronauts arrive in lunar orbit via NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, they will transfer into Starship HLS for the journey down to and back from the Moon’s surface. The first landing, Artemis III, is scheduled for September 2026, a little more than two years from now.

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