NASA announced this week that it has awarded contracts to four US suborbital space firms to carry payloads to the "boundary of space."
The space agency confirmed that the four selected companies will receive an "indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract for integration and flight services." The contracts will last three years with the option of a two year extension and are worth a minimum of $100,000 (£62,000).
One of the companies selected, Virgin Galactic, is best known for developing its space tourism business using its SpaceShipTwo vehicle. However, the firm also plans to use the craft for scientific research and is developing another ship, Launcher One, to deliver small satellites into orbit.
Another contract recipient, Masten Space Systems, is most famous for winning the $1 million (£620,000) Lunar Lander X-Prize in 2009. The firm's focus is on developing vertical takeoff, vertical landing unmanned spacecraft.
UP Aerospace develops suborbital rockets to deliver research payloads, while Paragon Space Development Corporation has developed hardware for over 70 space missions and completes the quartet of contracted firms.
NASA's associate administrator for space technology, Michael Gazarik, said in a press release that the new contract agreements would help the government agency achieve the goal of regular, frequent and predictable access to near-space at a reasonable cost.
"These proven flight service providers will allow for payloads from organizations including NASA, industry, academia, and other government agencies to be tested on flights to the edge of space before being committed to demonstration in the harsh environment of space itself."