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World is not enough: Millionaires bet on space travel

The world's super-rich could soon switch from setting up home in the traditional property hot spots such as London to heading for outer space.

Sub-orbital space travel — where a spacecraft breaches space but does not launch into orbit — could radically shift global markets, eradicating the premium for properties in major commercial cities, according to an annual report from Knight Frank.

Virgin Galactic | Getty Images

The luxury estate agent forecast the first sub-orbital flights would be launched in 2020 by the like of Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. Flight times between the world's major cities would be drastically reduced, therefore reducing the "convenience premium" — whereby property prices in cities like London are higher than New York because of their proximity to Africa, the Middle East, Russia and the rest of Europe.

(Read more: Virgin Galactic to accept bitcoin: Branson)

"Right now, London wins over New York as a global wealth hub, in part because London is more convenient for African, Middle Eastern, Russian and European ultra-high net worth individuals. But within a decade, this convenience premium could be noticeable reduced if Mr Branson succeeds in making his vision a reality," said Knight Frank Global Head of Research Liam Bailey, in the report.

He told CNBC that Sydney, Australia, could benefit for similar reasons. "Sydney is already playing a role as a safe-haven hub in Asia but it is quite geographically remote from Europe… so it could equally benefit from that process."

Bailey added that the development could revolutionize the market for second houses, with purchasers no longer needing to factor in travel convenience. Asian investors, for instance, could choose to purchase holiday homes in Europe.

"Right now, demand is mainly restricted to European investors, who try to limit their travel to less than two hours. In future, that same time limit could allow Chinese or Indian investors to pop over for the weekend to visit their Tuscan farmhouse," he said.

Knight Frank also noted the rising trend for investing in space research, be it space travel or asteroid mining. The estate agent said it had identified 70 "wealthy individuals", with a combined wealth of over $200 billion, who are targeting the growing space sector.

(Read more: Precious metal hunters look to outer space)

Bailey told CNBC that increasing numbers of wealthy individuals — defined in Knight Frank's report as those with at least $30 million in investable assets — had shown interest in the space industry over the last 12 months. He named U.S. technology millionaires as early movers in investing in the space.

"This is a risky sector," Bailey said. "The people who are investing in the sector are aware that they are at the cutting edge of technology, but they are taking the view that the potential rewards are enormous."

According to Space Affairs, established in 2000 as the "world's first commercial space agency", suborbital space flight will be a possibility for both businesses and tourists within years, rather than decades.

"In the next few years, suborbital spacecraft will transport scientific payloads and passengers into space. In the foreground of scientific payload is the natural exploration of Earth and the development of new materials and the test of it," Space Affairs said on its website.

However, Bailey warned that it would be more than 10 years before any impact from space travel was felt on property markets, and that this would depend on affordability.

"It is more than a decade away when this would likely to have an impact; there are considerable hurdles to overcome technology-wise... the question is how quickly the technology is democratized in terms of price point," he told CNBC.

—By CNBC's Katy Barnato. Follow her on Twitter: @KatyBarnato

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