Yusaku Maezawa, a billionaire Japanese investor, has been a keen supporter of Elon Musk’s SpaceX since at least last year when Elon revealed that Maezawa had supported the company by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in return for being one of its first customers.
Maezawa announced that the first flight, named DearMoon, will take him and a number of artists (who won’t need to pay for their tickets) to the moon and back in a journey that will take around ten days. And as an incentive to SpaceX, his investment has come in waves once certain objectives are met. For example, once Starhopper underwent flight tests, another level of funding was unlocked for the aerospace company.
Starhopper went through a number of changes before flight tests even started, with the main structural material choice changing from carbon fibre composites to steel. This change not only lowered costs, but steel performed better in every way compared to the carbon. In about six months, the first version was built, and in April 2019 it began wet dress rehearsal testing. Things were delayed by several months thanks to issues with the Raptor engines, but eventually, three months after that, it began flight testing.
SpaceX decided to fit the vehicle with Falcon 9 thruster pods to keep it stable in-flight, and eventually an entire thruster pod was gifted to Maezawa out of appreciation for his investment.
SpaceX is planning to carry out its first moon landings in 2022, so a circumlunar mission around the Moon could be much sooner.