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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has picked three big space companies for the first phase of a larger project to test nuclear propulsion above low Earth orbit by 2025.

General Atomics, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin each received contracts for the Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program's first phase. While DARPA did not disclose the contract values in its announcement, media outlet Space News reported General Atomics received $22 million, Lockheed Martin $2.9 million and Blue Origin $2.5 million.

The teams were selected due to their ability to develop and deploy advanced systems for reactors, propulsion and spacecraft, DARPA officials said in a statement. The agency particularly emphasized the need for "rapid maneuver" for military systems but said this is difficult in space with conventional systems.

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