The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has commissioned three companies to design a next-generation space plane whose description sounds straight out of a science fiction movie.

The contract is for the first phase of DARPA’s “Experimental Spaceplane” program — an effort to find reusable, affordable space launch systems for the government.

A satellite is traditionally launched into space via a giant rocket, which is an expensive process that requires scheduling years ahead for limited slots, DARPA said. The new “hypersonic space plane” is envisioned as an airplane-like vehicle that will ferry an expendable rocket and the satellite into suborbital altitude. It will then break off, fly back to earth, and be ready to go for the next mission.

DARPA wants the space plane to demonstrate 10 flights in 10 days, fly at least once at 10 times the speed of sound, and all for less than $5 million per flight.

The companies selected to design this futuristic plane are partnerships between space giants and start-ups. They include Boeing with Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman with Virgin Galactic. The third contractor is a joint venture between California start-ups Masten Space Systems and Xcor Aerospace.

“We chose performers who could prudently integrate existing and up-and-coming technologies and operations,” Jess Sponable, the agency’s program manager, said in a statement.

DynCorp, American Systems name new CEOs

McLean-based defense contractor DynCorp announced that S. Gordon Walsh, who has worked in the aerospace and defense industry for more than two decades, will take over from current leader Steven Gaffney beginning Monday.

Gaffney had served in the position since August 2010. The company did not cite a specific reason for his departure.

“As domestic defense spending faces new pressures, international spending and new domestic business lines will provide a robust environment for growth,” Chan Galbato, lead director of Delta Tucker Holdings, which owns DynCorp, said in a statement. “Gordon is the smart choice to take advantage of the market’s new opportunities.”

At an industry event earlier this year, Gaffney said expanding DynCorp’s global customer base was a priority in 2014. The company shuffled its business units last year to create DynGlobal, which was a response to the fall in domestic business.

“We’ve always been global, but now it’s a more deliberate and dedicated part of our strategy,” Gaffney said.

Chantilly-based services company American Systems also announced a change at the top, as Peter Smith takes over from longtime leader Bill Hoover. Smith, who has been at the company for more than 30 years, currently serves as American Sciences’ chief operating officer.

In a phone interview, Smith said the firm’s growth strategy will involve entering new sectors.

American Systems is positioning itself to perform more health care and energy services work, he said, in line with “shifting government priorities.”

He added that the company was open to “targeted acquisitions” to enter those new markets.

American Systems specializes in several areas of government services, including command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; national security; and logistics. The company’s revenue last year was $325 million, Smith said.

Hoover, who will retire later this month, took over the company in 2005. A graduate of the Naval Academy, he worked at Dynamics Research and Oracle’s government services unit before joining American Systems.

Having worked with Hoover over the past nine years, Smith said he was prepared to implement the leadership lessons he learned over his tenure.

“I learned [from him] the importance of staying agile in your thinking, and keeping an open mind,” Smith said.