Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Space Information Laboratories will develop airborne launcher concepts under contracts with the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), according to Pentagon procurement notices and company press releases.

DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program aims to develop an air-launched rocket able to launch 45-kilogram satellites into low Earth orbit at a cost of $1 million, or about $22,000 per kilogram. Currently small satellites cost around $66,000 per kilogram to launch, according to DARPA.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. of Palmdale, Calif., garnered the biggest of the awards at $6.2 million, followed by Boeing Phantom Works of El Segundo, Calif., whose 18-month contract is valued at $4.5 million. Northrop Grumman won a $2.3 million contract; Space Information Laboratories LLC of Santa Maria, Calif., won a $1.9 million contract.

The contracts have been awarded over a period from late March to late May.

A total of $164 million will be available for award under the ALASA program, according to DARPA. DARPA hopes to begin launching satellites under the ALASA program in 2015.