- Associated Press - Thursday, September 30, 2010

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The company that makes rocket boosters for the soon-to-be-retired space shuttle said it laid off hundreds of employees Thursday because of uncertainty over the future of the U.S. space program.

ATK Aerospace Systems dismissed 414 engineers, factory workers and other employees at three northern Utah locations, company spokesman George Torres told The Associated Press.

Some of the layoffs are due to the phase-out of the space shuttle program, he said. ATK Aerospace, a division of Minneapolis-based Alliant Techsystems Inc., makes shuttle rocket boosters in Utah.

“The space shuttle program is adding only one more mission, and we’ve already produced the booster rockets for that mission,” he said.

The bulk of the layoffs _ nearly 300 _ were made after recent directions from NASA about its plans for the 2011 fiscal year, Torres said.

Another dozen ATK workers were laid off Thursday at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., the latest of 2,100 ATK employees who have lost jobs over the past two years.

The layoffs leave ATK Aerospace with about 3,600 workers in Utah, with 1,600 of them dedicated to NASA programs, Torres said.

Thursday’s cuts come one day after Congress approved a NASA reauthorization bill that calls for continued development of a heavy-lift space launch system but suspends development plans for a separate transport vehicle for manned travel. President Barack Obama has said he wants the private sector to develop space vehicles.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the compromise, which approves more than $58 billion in spending over the next three years, was an improvement on Obama administration plans to scrap the future Constellation program in its entirety. That would have killed the manufacture of solid rocket motors in Utah, he said.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, blamed congressional Democrats for failing to provide “a more seamless transition” for the space program.

“Many of the people who are being notified of layoffs are my friends and neighbors, so this hits close to home,” he said Thursday. “We will continue this battle.”

ATK said it was grateful for support from Utah’s congressional delegation.

“Because of their efforts, we will continue playing a significant role in America’s space exploration programs,” Torres said. “We knew our business was changing and we knew we had to re-scale and reshape our business to remain competitive.”

Alliant Techsystems shares rose $1.51, or 2 percent, to $75.40 on Thursday.

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