On the Web site of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s new “spaceline,” one can book a ticket on the company’s spacecraft. It’s unclear when the first flight will take off, but in the interim, ticket holders get access to exclusive events, like a view of the spaceship being built in California, zero-gravity parabolic flights and an invitation to Branson’s private Caribbean island, his game reserve in South Africa, his chalet in the Swiss Alps or his estate in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The ticket price? Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Floating weightless like an astronaut? Priceless.

Branson’s project has a similar profile to a lot of space projects these days: It’s really expensive, really risky and really long term, but if all goes well, it’s likely to be really lucrative. And all of that is why space has been captivating some of the world’s wealthiest individuals over the last five years. Some 70 ultra-high-net-worth investors, with a combined wealth of over $200 billion, have invested in space-related projects, from rocket ships to asteroid mining, according to London-based wealth consulting firm Knight Frank.

“Some of the technology they’re developing is far into the future, and some of it is realistic and happening now,” says Liam Bailey, head of research at Knight Frank.

The list of investors reads like a Who’s Who of the world’s rich and smartest. On the space tourism front, there’s Branson, who hopes to not just take passengers into space but to one day fly through suborbital space to speed up cross-global travel. Virgin Galactic expects to have its first test flights this year, with the first commercial flights to and from suborbital space starting next year. Over the next decade, the company hopes to be flying passengers from one point on Earth to another using a suborbital route. That would cut the 10,500-mile flight from London to Sydney, for example, from nearly a day to about two and a half hours.

Then there are the launching companies, which are trying to build rockets and spacecraft that are cheaper, more reliable and more technologically advanced. The most well-known is SpaceX, founded by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. A space transport services company, SpaceX hopes to bring people to the International Space Station.

XCOR Aerospace in Mojave, Calif., has raised its money from individuals like Esther Dyson and Pete Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, and a number of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. XCOR is designing a spaceship that will operate like a normal aircraft, making flights several times a day from a normal runway. The ship would accept passengers, space experiments and small satellites for deployment, though it would charge far less than Virgin: about $95,000 a seat.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos launched Blue Origin, which is developing spacecraft to transport humans into suborbital and orbital space. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and entrepreneur Burt Rutan have formed Stratolaunch Systems, which is developing a gigantic aircraft that will launch a rocket and passengers into space. And Las Vegas-based hotel and real estate magnate Bob Bigelow has two test modules in orbit right now for his commercial space stations and lunar base modules.

A third group of companies hopes to mine asteroids for precious metals. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as company chairman Eric Schmidt, filmmaker James Cameron, former Microsoft chief architect Charles Simonyi and Ross Perot Jr., are backing Planetary Resources, based in Bellevue, Wash. Houston-based Deep Space Industries (DSI) doesn’t have the star power of Planetary Resources, but it hopes to fund its operations through investors, through “progress payments” from government customers and through payments from commercial customers. While both Planetary Resources and DSI plan to mine asteroids for precious metals, their interim plan is to process asteroid materials into fuel and parts that can extend the lives of satellites.

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