Tough times continue for Alliant Techsystems as the defense contractor and aerospace company announced on Thursday that 800 jobs would be cut from its Utah work force early next year.

It is second round of layoffs announced by the company this year.

In October, about 550 workers — approximately 12 percent of the company's then-4,500-person Utah work force — were let go. The most recent announced cuts will lower that amount even further, to approximately 3,100 employees, ATK spokesman George Torres told the Deseret News.

Minnesota-based ATK blames the layoffs on the "ramping down" of NASA's space shuttle and the Air Force Minuteman III programs.

ATK Space Systems on Thursday notified its employees of layoffs that will occur in February and May, according to a company news release. The layoffs will take place primarily at the company's three Utah locations in Clearfield, Promontory and Magna.

The company estimates that it will lay off approximately 500 employees in February, with a second round of 300 cuts scheduled for May.

"ATK has been working to minimize work force reductions by transferring employees to other active ATK programs, as well as helping to place employees with other companies," Torres said in the release. "The company will also hold a career fair that will include representatives from companies in the area that are hiring."

Some employees will be offered a voluntary layoff option, he noted.

Torres told the Deseret News that the company had hoped to minimize the number of layoffs by shifting resources to NASA's Ares I rocket program. But he said the program has been slow in coming online, which has forced ATK to take this latest drastic action.

As with to previous cutbacks, affected employees will receive a severance package that includes separation pay of up to 26 weeks based on years of service and continuation of health care benefits through the end of February. Employees also will receive job placement assistance that includes providing a career placement workshop with advice from a professional career counselor.

"We regret having to take these steps during this economically challenging time," Torres said in the release. "These business cycles aren't new or pleasant, and when they occur, we recognize the challenge and strain it puts on everyone."

He added the company also takes very seriously the responsibility to its work force to lead the company through this challenging period.

"Our projection is we will be stable (after these latest cutbacks)," he said.

Torres also noted that the company's recent testing of the Ares I rocket using ATK's solid-fuel motors was successful and would hopefully bode well for the company's future.

"We are going to find out (early next year) when President Obama comes out with his budget for fiscal year 2011…and his road map on where he wants the nation to go in space," Torres said.

"Based on those successful tests, we feel more confident that Ares will play a substantial role in that future."