An aerospace startup in Mojave received a Defense Department contract on Tuesday to develop an experimental space plane to take small satellites into low-earth orbit.

Masten Space Systems was one of three companies picked by the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to work on the XS-1 project. Also chosen were Boeing Co., in Chicago, and Northrop Grumman Corp., in Falls Church, Va.

The XS-1 is a reusable space plane that would travel to a suborbital altitude to deploy satellites of 3,000 pound to 5,000 pounds at a cost of about $5 million per launch, a fraction of the cost of a typical rocket. It also would demonstrate the capabilities of next generation hypersonic aircraft.

Masten will work on the XS-1 project with XCOR Aerospace, a Mojave company building a two-seat suborbital space vehicle.

Masten was founded in 2004 by Dave Masten, a former tech entrepreneur who develops and builds vertical take-off and landing spacecraft. In 2009, the company won the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge with its Xombie and Xoie spacecraft.

Program Manager Jess Sponable said DARPA chose companies for the first phase that can integrate existing and up-and-coming technologies.

“We’re eager to see how their initial designs envision making spaceflight commonplace – with all the potential military, civilian and commercial benefits that capability would provide,” said Sponable, in a prepared statement.

Northrop, formerly headquartered in Los Angeles, will partner on the XS-1 with Virgin Galactic, the commercial space company owned by billionaire Richard Branson, which has a manufacturing facility for its space vehicle in Mojave.