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NEWS | Aug. 27, 2015

NRL's Peter Wilhelm Bestowed Naval Research Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Science

By Daniel Parry

Mr. Peter Wilhelm, retired director of the Naval Center for Space Technology at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), receives the honorary Dr. Fred E. Saalfeld Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement in Science, the highest scientific award bestowed upon a naval research scientist by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Presented by Rear Adm. Mat Winter, chief of naval research, at a ceremony held August 26 at ONR headquarters, Arlington, Va., Wilhelm was conferred the award for contributions to the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of the Navy (DoN), and the nation over the span of his career in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, science, design engineering, navigation, and tactical communications.

Mr. Wilhelm's extraordinary leadership and inspirational vision have contributed substantially to ensuring the nation's continued leadership in space, said colleague Dr. Bhakta Rath, associate director of research for the Materials Science and Component Technology at NRL. His innovative concepts in the areas of satellite launch, orbit insertion, transfer, and maneuvering systems have benefited American taxpayers by making major national space systems affordable while also permitting their development and operational deployment in service of the war fighter.

Since the advent of the Space Age, in the late 1950s, Wilhelm has provided technical expertise and managerial leadership for some 100 scientific and support satellites launched by NRL. He personally oversaw the design, development and deployment of 48 of these spacecraft, making him one of the most experienced space system engineers in the world today. His technical achievements in high-performance, long-life satellites, multiple satellite launching systems, passive and active gravity gradient stabilization systems, low power-low weight electronics, station-keeping micro-thrusters, and solid-state memory systems have been critical to maintaining the United States' superiority in space.

Among his many contributions are his work on the world's first reconnaissance satellite during the Cold War; the design of the experimental and early satellites that led to the world-changing Global Position System (GPS); the design of the Clementine Satellite, which photographed the entirety of the moon's surface and discovered water at its poles; and the design of WindSat, which measures wind speed and direction over the oceans at a resolution that is directly relevant to naval operations.

Wilhelm's overall contributions over the past 55 years perhaps will never be surpassed when it comes to space systems. Among them include: 26 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance satellites, which provide tactical and strategic support to the military, security and intelligence services and national decision makers; four satellites that proved out the ultrahigh precision clock technology that underlies GPS; 28 satellites hosting a variety of one-of-a-kind scientific experiments to study, among other things, solar radiation, radiofrequency propagation, and new advanced materials for communications, computational and other technologies; seven satellites to provide unprecedented tactical communications abilities; and 35 satellites to space qualify many new technologies, such as gravity gradient stabilization, attitude control, solid state electronics, and laser communications and spacecraft tracking.

All of this belies what perhaps is his greatest accomplishment of all, says Rath. The creation and maintenance of a culture of innovation at NRL that has earned it a prominent spot in the entire and ongoing history of the U.S. space program.

This award is named in honor of Dr. Fred E. Saalfeld, the Office of Naval Research Executive Director and Technical Director from 1993 — 2002.

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