NASA Utah contractor laying off 550 engineers

Thursday, October 8, 2009
By Paul Foy, AP

SALT LAKE CITY -- The phase-out of the space shuttle program brought 550 layoffs on Tuesday to a Utah company that makes the booster rockets.

ATK Space Systems said it was handing out pink slips to engineers, factory workers and others at three Utah locations.

The company, a business unit of Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems Inc., is developing NASA's powerful moon rocket as a replacement for the space shuttle. But funding for that program is uncertain, and the initial work isn't enough to maintain a full work force.

The layoffs will leave ATK Space Systems with around 3,900 employees at its Clearfield headquarters, a factory in Magna and a test facility in Promontory.

The company alerted workers to plans for the reductions in July. More than 130 of the employees voluntarily accepted a layoff. Along with others, they will get a severance package of up to a half-year's wages.

Some of the layoffs were blamed on the end of production for the government's Minuteman III ballistic missile program.

Despite the cutbacks, the company believes it has a secure future in aerospace work and said it was working to secure more defense or NASA contract work.

ATK successfully test fired NASA's powerful moon rocket last month in Promontory, 65 miles north of Salt Lake City. A first attempt in August was scrubbed because of problems with a computer component on the ground test system. The Ares I has been a centerpiece of NASA's $100 billion return to the moon plans, first suggested by President George W. Bush in 2004. The idea was that the Ares I would take the Orion crew capsule to the international space station in Earth orbit and then to the moon, with the big equipment coming from a heavy lift rocket, still to be built, called Ares V.

But after money problems, delays, and technical issues, President Barack Obama appointed a special outside panel of experts to review NASA's future space plans.

The committee's preliminary summary, issued last month, said there wasn't enough money in the current budget to go to the moon and also suggested that the Ares I may not be the best option.

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