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Three companies have been awarded U.S. military contracts to develop concepts for a next-generation space plane that could be used multiple times to launch satellites into orbit. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced Tuesday that it has awarded contracts for Phase 1 of the XS-1 program to the Boeing Co., working with Blue Origin; Masten Space Systems, working with XCOR Aerospace; and Northrop Grumman Corp., working with Virgin Galactic.

The XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane will be reusable, unmanned aircraft that can deploy small satellites faster and more affordably than current launch systems. DARPA wants the spacecraft to be able to fly 10 times in 10 days, reach speeds greater than Mach 10 and reduce the cost of payload launches to less than $5 million per flight. DARPA did not announce the value of the contracts, though the agency previously said they would be worth $3 million to $4 million each. The plane could make its debut as early as 2018.



— James Eng, NBC News