(Bloomberg) -- The Department of Defense selected SpaceX, Blue Origin, and the United Launch Alliance to compete for as much as $5.6 billion in contracts to launch future national security satellites into orbit.

In a Thursday announcement, the agency said the companies would be able to compete for contracts over the next five years through June 2029. There is also a possible option to extend the period another five years. The Space Force anticipates awarding at least 30 national security launches between the three providers over the initial five-year period.

Previously, only SpaceX and ULA were eligible to bid for national security missions. Between 2020 and 2024, the two companies were awarded a total of 48 missions to launch satellites for the DOD. 

Blue Origin had originally hoped to be able to compete along with SpaceX and ULA during that time period, but was not selected and unsuccessfully protested the decision. Now the Jeff Bezos-founded company is finally in the mix, though its planned orbital rocket, the New Glenn, has yet to launch to space. Blue Origin aims to fly New Glenn this year.

The Space Force said that each of the three companies must have either flown their rockets by December 15, 2024 or have proposed a credible plan to fly by then.

Blue Origin will receive an initial $5 million to conduct a “capabilities assessment” to better understand how it will approach “mission assurance” for the military. SpaceX and ULA will only receive $1.5 million each because they are incumbents and the Pentagon is familiar with how they approach their launches, the Space Force said in a statement.

The Pentagon noted that “emerging” launch companies will also still have the opportunity to bid for future missions during another opportunity in 2025.

“As we anticipated, the pool of awardees is small this year because many companies are still maturing their launch capabilities,” Brigadier General Kristin Panzenhagen, a Space Systems Command program officer, said in a statement.

The Space Force still plans to award contracts this fall to potentially three rocket companies to compete for an additional set of national security missions, not part of the Thursday announcement. Those contracts will be for launches to “more stressing orbits” and will require higher performing rockets with more complex security requirements.

(Updates with details on contracts, Blue Origin eligibility from fourth paragraph.)

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