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Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson’s space companies

Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson rolls out his new SpaceShip Two VSS Unity during an event at the Mojave Air and Space Port on Feb. 19, 2016, in Mojave, Calif. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

For decades, space travel was seen as a risky investment, one that venture capitalists shied away from. But recently, the commercial space industry has attracted a growing number of investors that now includes the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, which announced Thursday it plans to invest $1 billion in Richard Branson's portfolio of space companies.

In a statement, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, said the country intended to take a large stake in Branson's ventures in an effort “to enhance the role of innovative technology within the Kingdom’s blueprint for a modern, diversified economy.”

The infusion of cash is a huge boon for Branson, who has said that Virgin Galactic intends, at long last, to start flying tourists to the edge of space in the coming months. The investment would also go into Virgin Orbit, a California-based company that is building a rocket capable of delivering small satellites to space. The deal gives the kindgom an option to invest $480 million more in future space services.

The move is another indication of increasing confidence in the industry. Two years ago, Google and Fidelity announced they were investing $1 billion in Elon Musk's SpaceX. Since 2000, more than $10 billion has been invested in start-up space ventures, two-thirds of which has been in the past five years, according to Bryce Space and Technology, a consulting firm.

In a study, the firm noted several major investments: Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos has sunk more than $1 billion in Blue Origin, his space company. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Softbank and others poured $1.2 billion into OneWeb, which is making small satellites to beam the Internet across the globe.

In addition to flying tourists and satellites, Branson hopes to one day fly passengers around the globe at incredibly high speeds, in what's known as point-to-point travel.

“We are now just months away from Virgin Galactic going into space with people on board and Virgin Orbit going into orbit and placing satellites around the Earth,” Branson said in a statement. “This investment will enable us to develop the next generation of satellite launches and accelerate our program for point to point supersonic space travel.”