Richard Branson in Saudi Arabia
Credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia may be poised to become a world leader in commercial space travel.

Last week, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced that it would invest $1 billion in Richard Branson’s space companies, including Virgin Galactic.

The Saudi crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said in a statement that the investment was to “enhance the role of innovative technology within the Kingdom’s blueprint for a modern, diversified economy.”

In return, Branson will contemplate building “one or two” hotels in Saudi Arabia’s upcoming urban projects. A statement from Virgin also mentioned “the possibility to develop a space-centric entertainment industry in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Earlier this year, Branson said he hoped commercial space flights aboard Virgin Galactic would begin by the end of 2017. The investment will “accelerate our programme for trans-continental point-to-point space travel,” according to the company.

The announcement of the Saudi investment came during the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh last week. The conference is meant to encourage foreign economic leaders to invest in Saudi Arabia.

During the conference, the crown prince also revealed plans for a futuristic megacity in the northwest of Saudi Arabia that will run entirely on alternative, sustainable energy. The prince showed his plan for a modern city in a promotional video featuring men and women without hijabs working alongside each other in a co-ed office.

However considering Saudi Arabia only gave women the right to drive last month, some investors question how futuristic the proposed megacity could be. Women were also just given the right to attend sporting events in stadiums over the weekend. They must still ask men for permission to travel and to marry.

Branson said in a statement that he “enjoyed a fascinating visit to Saudi Arabia, a country where great change is taking place step by step.”

The crown prince said that the government aims to increase female participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030. Current participation percentages are the eighth lowest in the world, according to data from the World Bank.