Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa cancelled his “dearMoon” mission, which the project said was to have been the first private flight around the moon, the mission announced on Saturday.

The team had originally aimed to make the circumlunar flight, with celebrities on board, by the end of last year but that became “unfeasible”, the mission said in a statement on its website.

“Without clear schedule certainty in the near-term, it is with a heavy heart that Maezawa made the unavoidable decision to cancel the project,” it said. “To all who have supported this project and looked forward to this endeavour, we sincerely appreciate it and apologise for this outcome.”

In a separate post on the mission website, Maezawa suggested the cause of the cancellation was uncertainty over the project development, saying he signed the contract in 2018 based on the assumption the launch would come by the end of 2023.

“It’s a developmental project so it is what it is, but it is still uncertain as to when Starship can launch,” Maezawa said.

“I can’t plan my future in this situation, and I feel terrible making the crew members wait longer, hence the difficult decision to cancel at this point in time.”

In 2022, Maezawa said DJ and producer Steve Aoki of the United States; Tim Dodd, an American YouTuber; Czech artist Yemi AD; Rhiannon Adam, an Irish photographer; British photographer Karim Iliya; American filmmaker Brendan Hall; and Indian actor Dev Joshi, and K-pop musician TOP of South Korea will join him for the journey around the moon on SpaceX’s Starship rocket.

There were also two backup crew members: snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington of the US and dancer Miyu of Japan.

In November, Maezawa said the flyby mission would be delayed until this year or later.

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Japanese billionaire Maezawa returns to Earth after 12-day space tourism

Japanese billionaire Maezawa returns to Earth after 12-day space tourism

According to a mission profile graphic on the dearMoon website, the round trip was expected to last almost six days and circumnavigate the moon without landing.

Maezawa, the mega-rich founder of Japan’s largest online fashion mall, flew in 2021 to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket, paying a reported 10 billion yen (US$63.5 million).

The billionaire has previously made headlines with an online ad for a girlfriend to join him on his SpaceX flight – only to abruptly cancel the hunt, despite attracting nearly 30,000 applicants.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse