SAN DIEGO — General Dynamics said Tuesday that it will lay off more than 300 of its 2,900 Space Systems Division employees in San Diego after cancellation of a program connected to the Space Shuttle.
General Dynamics earlier had announced that an undetermined number of layoffs would be required after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration canceled the Shuttle/Centaur program on June 19, nearly five months after the Challenger disaster.
The company also will lay off about one-third of the 350-member work force at General Dynamics' Shuttle/Centaur testing facility at Cape Canaveral, according to spokesman Jack Isabel.
NASA planned to have Space Shuttles carry General Dynamics-built Centaur rockets into space, where they would launch spacecraft on interplanetary voyages, Isabel said.
After the layoffs, which will involve about 185 salaried and 165 hourly employees, 2,600 Space Division employees will remain at General Dynamics's San Diego operation.
The company has set up an outplacement office to help find work for employees who cannot be absorbed into other space programs.
Employees laid off because of the NASA cancellation would receive "first consideration for placement into available openings," according to Bernie A. Kulchin, space systems division vice president.
The layoffs in San Diego and Florida will occur over the next several months because "there's still a lot of work to be done before the program is officially shut down," Isabel said.
Two Shuttle/Centaur rockets were manufactured by General Dynamics, according to Isabel. Both are in Florida where they were to have been loaded onto shuttles and subsequently used to launch spacecraft on voyages to Jupiter and the sun.
Despite the cutbacks, Isabel said the company remains active in several existing rocket programs and hopes to eventually participate in at least two new programs.
General Dynamics engineers are working on a design that Isabel described as "the next generation space transportation architecture study," and on a modified Centaur rocket that would be used by the Air Force Space Division.
On Monday, General Dynamics submitted a bid for a $5-million contract to design the "concept" for a "medium launch vehicle" being considered by the Air Force to launch navigational satellites into orbit, Isabel said.
General Dynamics views the medium launch vehicle program, as a "great opportunity" for the company to continue production of its Centaur rocket, he added.