NASA astronauts may be able to get back up into space under a new contract that will team the government organization with companies in the private sector.

The Integrated Design Contract (IDC) will run from July 2012 through April 2014 and cost NASA up to $1.61 billion.

The objective of this contract is to procure transportation services that will take astronauts to low Earth orbit and to the International Space Station, the company said in a statement on Monday.

This IDC effort will bring us through the critical design phase to fully incorporate our human spaceflight safety requirements and NASA's International Space Station mission needs, NASA Commercial Crew Program Manager Ed Mango said in a statement. We look forward to strong U.S. industry response.

The contract will be awarded to companies that provide a complete end-to-end design for missions, NASA said.

This is a significant step forward in America's amazing story of space exploration, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. It's further evidence we are committed to fully implementing our plan -- as laid out in the Authorization Act -- to outsource our space station transportation so NASA can focus its energy and resources on deep space exploration.