A federal plan supporting the development of a heavy lift rocket for the U.S. space program, similar to the Ares vehicle being partially built in the Top of Utah, is on its way to President Barack Obama.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation late Wednesday night that reauthorizes the NASA budget -- which includes the launch vehicle specifications -- and will send the plan to the White House for approval.
But the legislation, already approved by the Senate, may not help more than 1,000 shuttle employees Congressional leaders expect to be laid off nationwide this week after ongoing aerospace cutbacks in the shuttle program.
Work force levels in Utah for the Alliant Techsystems Aerospace Division also have been a constant concern in the last two years. More than 2,000 people in Northern Utah are employed by ATK to build the Ares motor.
ATK officials would not say if more layoffs are expected in the interim as the company reacts to swiftly changing yet uncertain directives from Capitol Hill.
But ATK employees, speaking anonymously, told the Standard-Examiner that another round of layoffs appears imminent, perhaps today, at the Magna-based Aerospace division of the company.
Since April 2009, more than 1,500 people have left the company, voluntarily or otherwise, as ATK winds down its portion of missile and shuttle work while waiting for policy decisions on defense and aerospace programs.
The House-passed legislation is composed of the Senate version of the three-year NASA budget. It generally outlines a plan for a rocket that would support travel to asteroids and beyond.
Those deep-space targets are thought to favor using the Ares line of rockets already put into in motion by NASA.
Ares is part of the NASA Constellation space exploration project, but the rocket motor's future and the entire Constellation project have been in doubt.
Obama's space exploration plan, detailed in April, would put rocket launches for lower earth orbit in the hands of private contractors, leaving behind more than $9 billion in taxpayer dollars already spent on the Constellation configuration.
Utah's congressional delegation has been working on countering the White House plan by inserting support for a heavy launch vehicle in ongoing legislation.
Congress, in bipartisan wrangling, has been attempting to reconcile various versions of the NASA budget, but the Senate plan appears to have survived until after the November elections.
Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, represents the region that includes the ATK companies. He preferred a House version of the budget, but said the bill did send the right message to the Obama administration.
"It should tell NASA that both the House and the Senate want manned spacecraft, and an Ares-style spacecraft," Bishop said Wednesday.
Obama faces a Senate authorization bill that supports both types of launch vehicles and temporarily extends the life of the shuttle program.
Should Obama sign the bill, the NASA budget heads to the appropriation process in Congress, where the money is secured for the policy developed in the authorization stage just completed by lawmakers.
That debate could begin after lawmakers return from their fall break.