PROMONTORY -- ATK Space Systems has won a $50 million contract from NASA for research and development of a new generation of heavy launch vehicles.
The contract doesn't guarantee ATK new contracts to build those vehicles, but officials at the company said the work does put ATK in a better position to bid for the vehicles in the future.
ATK spent more than 30 years building solid rocket motors for the space shuttle.
As that program ended, ATK shed more than 2,000 jobs, half of its Box Elder County workforce, and is working to find a new role in the U.S. space industry as NASA switches to commercial contractors for its new programs.
Fred Brasfield, vice president of Next Generation Boosters at ATK, said Tuesday the $50 million will allow ATK to work on a new solid rocket motor to test the safety of new technology.
"They selected a number of tasks that culminate with a large motor static test about 30 months from now," he said.
"What we're going to test in 30 months is a 92-inch-diameter motor," smaller than the shuttle motors, "but still significantly sized."
The motor will use an advanced fuel, advanced propellant and higher-density loading, all combined so "it should give us more performance," Brasfield said.
The shell of the motor itself will be composite, not steel, produced in an ATK facility in Layton.
Paul Karner, program manager for the new work, said the money gives ATK an opportunity to show NASA that its facilities all along the Wasatch Front, not just the facility in Promontory, are able to produce motors.
"It really gives NASA a broad-brush view of ATK," he said.
While doing this doesn't mean ATK will win the eventual contract for building the new generation of launch vehicles, scheduled to go out for bid in 2015, Karner said, "Hats off to NASA in that, many times, they go right into advanced programs not knowing where the high risks are."
This new program will allow ATK employees to identify those risks "before they get into an advanced design, address those risks and mitigate them. It's a really good move by NASA on where they're investing their money."
ATK won't be hiring any new people to do the work, but Brasfield said workers on the shuttle motor program will shift over to this program.