photo of Paul "Rusty" Thomas

Senior Vice President/General Manager, Space Applications and Chief Technology Officer, Sierra Space

B.S. AAE 1991, Purdue University
M.S. ASE 1993, The University of Texas at Austin

Paul “Rusty” Thomas’ career includes commercial and government space systems with more than 120 launched missions spanning low earth orbit, geostationary and interplanetary spacecraft. He is currently the senior vice president and general manager of the Space Applications Sector and the chief technology officer at Sierra Space. He recently moved into this position after departing Amazon, where he was the director for the Kuiper Government Solutions team. Amazon’s Kuiper Systems is a planned constellation of 3,236 satellites that provides global broadband internet connectivity.

Thomas holds a B.S. in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University and an M.S. in engineering mechanics from The University of Texas at Austin. His military background includes twenty years of service in the U.S. Navy Reserve. Thomas is an Iraq veteran and Navy Intelligence Officer trained to deploy with Naval Special Warfare teams.

Prior to Amazon, Thomas worked with DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office leading Project Blackjack, a proliferated LEO satellite system with autonomous operations and direct tactical communication links from space to mobile ground users. He served at SpaceX before that, as Senior Director for Dragon Production, where he led the team that built the first commercial spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station. Thomas streamlined production, driving a build rate of six spacecraft per year, refurbished the first reusable Dragons, and established Crew Dragon production systems. His team also manufactured the Falcon9 landing legs and actuators that enabled the reusable first stage rockets that are now in operational use.

Thomas also held positions at Motorola, working on the original Iridium satellite integration and launch team, as well as performing Space Shuttle and SpaceLab structural analysis. At Northrop Grumman Innovations Systems (previously ATK), he held multiple program management positions, including leading the DARPA Microsatellite Technology Experiment (MiTEx) satellite mechanical design team.

He has been awarded two prestigious DARPA Director’s coins, one for MiTEX and the second for Project Blackjack, plus a DARPA Meritorious Public Service Medal.  His other honors include SpaceX “Kick-Ass” awards and a SpaceX Exemplary Leadership Award, two NASA Group Achievement Awards, and three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals.

Thomas lives in Falls Church, Virginia, with his wife, Jenny, and their daughters, Josephine and Jacqueline.  He enjoys traveling with his family, and specifically going places in his Piper Saratoga 6-person airplane.