After Elite, my fave space game is Empyrion: Galactic Survival. I've had it since very early pre-alpha, and it was a completely different, but still great, game back then. They have done a couple of huge updates in the last 18 months and it's developing into something very good.
Like many, there is a bit of grinding - but they are always trying to balance it out. Mining for resources is never going to be exciting, I guess.
I made a couple of vids during pre-alpha, but even at that stage, it had come a long way from the basics, where there was only one planet to start with. It really had great atmosphere - which it has lost some of as it has developed, but if you don't take the easy start, it can still provide some atmosphere and can definitely be a challenge.
It's Unity, so it could run in VR and I have run it with VorpX and the Rift, but the devs have not once mentioned VR (despite prompting).