Welch Award

Welch Award recipients

2020 Larry D. Welch Award for Best External Publication

This year’s winner of the Larry D. Welch Award for Best External Publication:

"Characterizing the Orbital Debris Environment Using Satellite Perturbation Anomaly Data,” by Operational Evaluation Division (OED) researchers Joel Williamsen and Daniel Pechkis, Science and Technology Policy Institute (STPI) researcher Asha Balakrishnan, and System Evaluation Division (SED) researcher Stephen Ouellette. Their paper was published in the Conference Proceedings of the International Orbital Debris Conference, December 2019.

About the Paper

The paper describes a new and original concept developed by the IDA authors under a Central Research Program (CRP) project. NASA has identified untracked orbital debris as one of the most serious threats to satellites in low Earth orbit, where some 20,000 commercial communications and web services satellites are expected to reside in coming years. The concept involves translating observed perturbations in satellite orbits, observed through GPS and communications links, to corresponding orbital debris characteristics, potentially filling an information void in the understanding of the low-Earth space debris environment that affects satellite design. The paper also uses NASA data—developed with IDA’s help in government-sponsored projects over the past decade—to show a potential over-estimate of orbital debris risk based on overly conservative orbital debris mass predictions.

Based on this innovative paper, along with subsequent analytic extensions, the Commerce Department has voiced strong interest in developing a “perturbation database.” The authors are also in discussions with NASA and with three large commercial satellite providers, which have expressed interest in the IDA-developed concept and in sharing perturbation data.

The space domain is a focus of current national attention and an increasing national security challenge. I’m very pleased that the authors of this paper took the initiative to pursue their ideas in this high-priority area and to get those ideas published in the open literature and available to others in the space community. This reflects very well on the authors and IDA. 

Our Award Recipients

This is the first Welch Award winning paper that includes authors from three different IDA research groups. All of the authors are experts in space assessments, but it was the synergy of their expertise that led to this new concept for predicting space debris. It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge this cross-division effort, as such collaboration is a key element of IDA’s success in addressing the most challenging sponsor problems.

Joel is an adjunct research staff member in OED. He received a PhD in systems engineering from the University of Alabama, Huntsville. He joined IDA as a research staff member in 2003 after working at the University of Denver’s Center for Space System Survivability, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and the U.S. Army Missile Defense Command.

Dan is a research staff member in OED. He joined IDA in 2011 after receiving a PhD in computational/theoretical physics from The College of William and Mary.

Asha is a STPI research staff member, who is currently on leave of absence in a congressional fellowship. She joined IDA in 2007 after receiving a PhD in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Stephen is a research staff member in SED. He joined IDA in 2001 after receiving a PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology. Stephen is now the fourth IDA researcher to win both the Goodpaster Award and the Welch Award. 

Congratulations to the authors for their high-quality research and success in publishing it in the open literature, exemplifying General Welch’s high standards of analytic excellence and relevance.

Other Noteworthy Nominations

I would also like to acknowledge eleven other external publications, seven of which were finalists in the voting process, while the other four were called out by the Welch Award Selection Committee as being particularly noteworthy among the non-finalist papers. These publications illustrate the diversity of IDA expertise and reflect very well upon the authors and our Institute.


Building a 21st Century Defense Acquisition Workforce,” War on the Rocks, May 6, 2019, by Strategy, Forces and Resources Division (SFRD) senior fellow Peter Levine.

In Search of a 21st Century Joint Warfighting Concept,” War on the Rocks, September 19, 2019, by Joint Advanced Warfighting Division (JAWD) researchers Tom Greenwood and Pat Savage.

Methodologies to Assess the Influence and Cost Benefit of Technology on Military Rotorcraft,” Proceedings of the 75th Annual Forum and Technology Display, Vertical Flight Society, 2019, by Science and Technology Division (STD) assistant director Christopher Martin, JAWD adjunct researcher Thomas Allen, OED researcher Mark Couch, Cost Analysis and Research Division (CARD) researcher Jack Law, and SED researchers Joshua Schwartz and Paul Jones. This is another great example of IDA collaboration!

Optimizing the Purchases of Military Air-to-Ground Weapons,” Military Operations Research, the Journal of the Military Operations Research Society (MORS) 24, no. 4 (2019): 37–52, by CARD deputy director Matthew Goldberg and external co-author David Goldberg.

U.S. Training of African Forces and Military Assistance, 1997-2017: Security versus Human Rights in Principal-Agent Relations,” African Security, 2018, by Intelligence Analyses Division (IAD) researcher Stephanie Burchard and external co-author Stephen Burgess.

User-Oriented Independent Analysis of the Toxic Load Model’s Ability to Predict the Effects of Time-Varying Toxic Inhalation Exposures,” Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 106 (August 2019): 27–42, by SED researchers Alexander Slawik, Nathan Platt, and Jeffry Urban.

What Is Agreed Competition in Cyberspace?” Lawfare, February 19, 2019, by Information Technology and Systems Division (ITSD) researcher Michael Fischerkeller.

Selected Other Nominations:

Active Denial Technology Computational Human Effects End-to-End Hypermodel (ADT CHEETEH),” Human Factors and Mechanical Engineering for Defense and Safety 3, no. 13 (August 20, 2019), by STD researchers Shelley Cazares, Jeffrey Snyder, James Belanich, John Biddle, and Allyson Buytendyk and STD assistant director Stacy Teng.

Quantifying the Year-by-Year Cost Uncertainty of Major Defense Programs,” Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual Acquisition Research Symposium, Volume 2 (April 30, 2019): 153–169, by CARD researcher David Tate and SFRD adjunct researcher Michael Guggisberg.

Phasor Field Waves: A Mathematical Treatment,” Optics Express 27, no. 20 (2019): 27500–27506, by STD researcher Jeremy Teichman. 

The Weight of the Shadow of the Past: The Organizational Culture of the Iraqi Army, 1921–2003,” in The Culture of Military Organizations, Part 2, Chapter 12 (Cambridge University Press, 2019): 272–298, edited by Peter Mansoor and Williamson Murray, by JAWD deputy director Kevin Woods.

Congratulations to our IDA colleagues for their success and for publishing in the open literature.