David Thompson

Hertz Fellow: David Thompson

California Institute of Technology

Area of Study

Aeronautics / Astronautics

Fellowship Years

1977 - 1978

Mr. Thompson is the Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President of Orbital Sciences Corporation, and a co-founder of the company. During the last 30 years, Orbital has grown from a three-person start-up to one of the world's leading space technology enterprises, with about $1.5 billion in annual revenues and nearly 4,000 employees in 2012. Since the early 1980's, the company has developed and manufactured more than 800 rockets and satellites for scientific, defense and commercial customers, and currently is designing and building another 200 launch vehicles and space systems for deliveries over the next five years.

Before co-founding Orbital in 1982, Mr. Thompson was special assistant to the president of Hughes Aircraft Company's Missile Systems Group and was a project manager and engineer on advanced rocket engines at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. As a college student, he worked on the first Mars landing missions at Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on Space Shuttle projects at NASA's Langley Research Center and Johnson Space Center.

As a result of his work at Orbital, Mr. Thompson was awarded the National Medal of Technology, was honored as Virginia's Industrialist of the Year, and received the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum Trophy. He was also awarded the International Von Karman Wings Award by the Aerospace Historical Society and the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation. In addition, he was named High-Technology Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine, was selected as Satellite Executive of the Year by Via Satellite Magazine, and was presented with the World Technology Award for Space by The Economist Magazine.

Mr. Thompson is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and served as its President in 2009-2010. He is also a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society and the Royal Aeronautical Society, and is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics. He received a bachelor's degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master's degree in Aeronautics from California Institute of Technology, and a M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He received Caltech's Distinguished Alumni Award and Harvard's Alumni Achievement Award, and serves on MIT's Visiting Committee in Aeronautics and Astronautics.