Utah's congressional delegation on Thursday urged NASA Administrator Charles Bolden to comply with federal payload requirements for a heavy-lift space system they contend can only be met by solid rocket motors like those built by Alliant Techsystems (ATK) near Promontory.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Bob Bennett and Rep. Rob Bishop, who are Republicans, along with Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat, met with Bolden and NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, was unable to attend because he was at a GOP Majority Transition Team function.
In April, President Barack Obama originally detailed a plan for the U.S. spaceflight program that moved away from using a rocket partially being developed by ATK, and cuts to the Utah project have been cited by the company as one reason for recent employee layoffs.
The shuttle program already is being phased out by federal officials.
Since April 2009, more than 1,500 people have left ATK in Utah, voluntarily or otherwise, as the company reacts in part to changes in the U.S. space shuttle and other missile programs.
In July, Congress approved the $19 billion NASA Authorization Act that supports development of a heavy-lift launch system, similar to the Ares rocket.
Hatch succeeded at getting language inserted in the bill that details specific payload requirements for the heavy-lift system. The payload requirements do not specifically obligate the system to use solid rocket motors.
However, Utah's congressional delegation says experts they have consulted maintain the legislation's requirements can be realistically met only by using solid rocket motors like those built by ATK.
For example, the rocket must be designed from its inception to carry 130 tons. The heavier the payload, the more likely the rocket will use solid rocket motors, Utah's delegation says.
The law also requires NASA to use, as much as practical, existing contracts, work forces and industries for the space shuttle and Ares rockets.
During Thursday's meeting, the delegation pressed Bolden and Garver on the use of solid rocket motors for the heavy-lift system.
"NASA has signaled an interest recently in possibly circumventing the law," Hatch said in a prepared statement.
"My purpose in calling this meeting was to explain, in no uncertain terms, the Utah congressional delegation's interest in ensuring that Utah's solid rocket motor industry is protected.
"Though they assured us that NASA would comply with the law, some of their answers reaffirmed my suspicions that we need to keep a very close watch on the agency."
NASA and ATK officials could not be reached for comment regarding the meeting.
Bishop also said he's concerned about compliance with heavy-lift system requirements outlined in the NASA Authorization Act.
"While I appreciate Administrator Charlie Bolden and Assistant Administrator Lori Garver's willingness to meet with us, I remain very concerned that NASA continues to delay the transition from Constellation systems toward the new heavy-lift program while they needlessly explore private startup technologies that remain unproven, require more money and are unfit for human-rated space travel," he said in a prepared statement.
Bennett said strict adherence to the NASA Authorization Act and the use of solid rocket motors is critical to saving thousands of jobs in Utah and sustaining national security.
Chaffetz said in a prepared statement he will continue to push NASA to utilize existing contracts, investments and work force in the design of the next generation of the space launch system.
Matheson agrees with the other members of Utah's congressional delegation, said his spokeswoman, Alyson Heyrend.
"The delegation is pretty united on this one," she said.