Spaceflight Insider

OA-9 Cygnus named in honor of J.R. Thompson

Orbital ATK's OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft departs from the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

Archive photo of Orbital ATK’s OA-6 Cygnus spacecraft departing from the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA

The OA-9 Cygnus spacecraft, currently scheduled to launch on May 20 from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia – has a name. Breaking with tradition of how these vehicles have been named in the past, the OA-9 Cygnus will not bear the name of a former astronaut.

Orbital ATK's J.R. Thompson. Photo Credit: Orbital ATK

J.R. Thompson. Photo Credit: Orbital ATK

The OA-9 Cygnus has been christened in honor of J.R. Thompson, who served as the Deputy Administrator of NASA, at the agency’s headquarters located in Washington, D.C., he also was in charge of the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Thompson went on to work in several positions with the manufacturer of the Cygnus spacecraft – Orbital ATK. In fact, he was involved with the development of Cygnus’ primary launch vehicle – Antares – as well as other launch vehicles the company produces.

“On this mission, Cygnus will carry approximately 7,400 pounds of cargo to the station. Since our first cargo mission 5 years ago, it has been our tradition to name the Cygnus spacecraft in honor of people who have advanced our country’s human spaceflight programs, and I am proud to announce that we will name this Cygnus spacecraft after J.R. Thompson, a distinguished leader in the aerospace industry and an indispensable member of our Orbital ATK leadership team for over 20 years,” David Thompson, the Dulles, Virginia-based company’s CEO stated via a release. “J.R. was instrumental in the development of our Antares rocket as well as several other company launch vehicles and spacecraft, and served in executive roles at Orbital Sciences Corporation as Chief Operating Officer and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors.  Before joining Orbital, J.R. was a member of NASA’s engineering team for the Saturn V’s J-2 engine, led the development of the Space Shuttle main engines, and later served as Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. He was the vice chair of NASA’s Challenger accident investigation, and served as NASA’s Deputy Administrator from 1989 to 1991. J.R.’s exceptional engineering expertise and his inspiring leadership strongly motivated those around him, including me, and helped Orbital ATK to develop the highly reliable and innovative products we’re known for.  We’re honored to celebrate his life with the upcoming launch of the S.S. J.R. Thompson.”

Prior to this upcoming flight, Cygnus cargo freighters have been named in honor of former NASA astronauts who have passed away. However, the company has noted via an issued statement, that their vehicles are named in honor of those who have been involved in the U.S.’ crewed spaceflight initiatives.

If everything goes as it is currently planned, the S.S. J.R. Thompson will loft an estimated 7,400 pounds (3,357 kg) of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). Typical payloads for these resupply flights include cargo, crew supplies and experiments to the ISS.

“The company takes great pride in naming our Cygnus spacecraft after departed space visionaries who truly left their mark on human spaceflight programs,” Vicki Cox, Director of Communications for Orbital ATK Space Systems Group told SpaceFlight Insider. “For OA-9, we realized that the naming of Cygnus could involve one of our own employees, J.R. Thompson, who everyone described as “larger than life” and an inspiring leader not only at Orbital Sciences (our predecessor company) but at NASA and the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in executive positions. Although J.R. passed away last year, his legacy lives on with the development of our Antares rocket and several other company launch vehicles and spacecraft. His engineering excellence and notable achievements from Orbital to NASA led us to dedicate the OA-9 Cygnus as the “S.S. J.R. Thompson” for its next mission aboard Antares to the International Space Station.”





Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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