An exotic-looking spacecraft and mother ship has been revealed by a celebrated US aerospace pioneer, who says it is the first privately funded human space programme.

Burt Rutan, best known for his non-stop, round-the-world aircraft Voyager, hopes the hitherto secret project will prove the viability of private space craft and thereby encourage other designers “What we’re trying to do is show that it can be done at extremely low cost,” he said.

The Tier One programme was unveiled at the headquarters of Rutan’s company, Scaled Composites, in California on Friday. It consists of two entirely new flight vehicles, rocket motors, a mobile ground station and a flight simulator. “It is a complete manned space programme, with all its support elements,” says Rutan.

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