The Impact of NASA’s IV&V Program on the State of West Virginia

When people talk about working at NASA, most assume the jobs are located in Texas, California or Florida. Rarely do people associate the Wild and Wonderful state of West Virginia with space, rockets or robotics. NASA’s IV&V Program is changing that.

The National Aeronautic and Space Administration, or NASA, has a presence in many states across the U.S., including the aforementioned states, Ohio, Maryland, New York, Virginia, Alabama, New Mexico, Mississippi, District of Columbia and right here in West Virginia. Some are home to NASA centers, and others, like West Virginia, are home to programs that operate under the guidance of a larger center. Here in Fairmont, NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Program falls administratively under NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) located in Greenbelt, Maryland, but operates under NASA headquarter’s functional guidance.

Home of NASA’s IV&V Program, located in Fairmont, WV.

Established in 1993, NASA’s IV&V Facility, now “Program,” was the first technology entity to be housed in the I-79 Technology Park and acted as the catalyst for other agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to move onsite. In fact, NASA’s IV&V Facility housed NOAA’s weather-predicting supercomputer and other vital backup systems until they outgrew NASA’s infrastructure. Formed as a direct result of recommendations made by the National Research Council and the Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident, NASA’s IV&V Program significantly contributes to the safety, security, and mission success of NASA missions, assuring that software on those missions performs correctly. But what exactly does that mean?

In short, NASA’s IV&V Program software analysts meticulously test and evaluate NASA’s highest criticality flight and ground mission software (International Space Station, James Webb Space Telescope, Mars 2020, to name a few) with the goal of assuring that the software performs as expected (safely, reliably, and securely) during mission operations. The IV&V analysts are responsible for identifying software defects, and working with the software developers to resolve those defects, prior to the mission going operational. To do this, the IV&V analysts seek answers to the following questions:

  • Will the system’s software do what it is supposed to do?
  • Will the system’s software not do what it is not supposed to do?
  • Will the system’s software respond as expected under adverse conditions?

Given the size and complexity of the system software developed for NASA’s missions, it is not feasible for the IV&V analysts to answer each of these questions completely; however, these questions provide context and serve as a guide for the detailed evaluations performed on the mission software. Ultimately, the goal of this work is to help increase the agency’s confidence that these missions will not fail.

Some of the more recently launched NASA missions that IV&V has performed work on are doing pretty amazing stuff. For example, the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) mission, launched on August 12, 2018, now holds the record for closest approach to the Sun by a human-made object. On November 5, 2018, PSP came within 15 million miles of the Sun’s surface. The spacecraft reached a top speed of 213,200 miles per hour relative to the Sun. Its mission goals are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles. Another NASA mission IV&V worked on, OSIRIS-REx, reached its destination, the asteroid Bennu, on December 3, 2018. Now the spacecraft will spend roughly 18 months surveying Bennu and preparing to collect a sample of surface material for return to Earth. Since asteroids are essentially leftover debris from the solar system formation process, they hold answers to the questions NASA scientists have about the history of the Sun and planets.

Image Credit: NASA
Illustration of OSIRIS-REx orbiting the near-Earth asteroid Bennu.

It’s important to note that while the PSP and OSIRIS-REx missions are both unmanned, NASA’s IV&V Program has also worked missions that fall under The Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate. HEO provides NASA with leadership and management of space operations related to human exploration in and beyond low-Earth orbit. They oversee missions such as the International Space Station, which IV&V has been working on since 1994. IV&V has also performed work on another HEO program, the Space Shuttle Program, which ran from 1981 until its final landing in 2011. While the International Space Station is currently the only opportunity for humans to live and work in space, IV&V is currently performing analysis on two of NASA’s future HEO programs: NASA’s Space Launch System or SLS, which is an advanced launch vehicle for a new era of exploration beyond Earth’s orbit into deep space and Orion, which will serve as the exploration vehicle that will carry the crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the space travel, and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. IV&V analysis on these missions is crucial to helping keep the astronauts that will be aboard them totally safe.

In addition to NASA mission work, NASA’s IV&V Program, in collaboration with the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium and West Virginia University, helped build West Virginia’s first spacecraft, Simulation-to-Flight (STF-1), that is set to launch in December of this year. NASA’s IV&V Program also provides cybersecurity assurance services to any NASA office or program, other federal agencies, municipal governments and other interested parties.

Engineers Scott Zemerick and Matt Grubb with the STF-1 CubeSat before it was shipped off for launch in 2018.

Since the year 2000, the annual NASA IV&V Program budget has grown from $21.7 million to $39.1 million, allowing for a continual increase in both projects and staff. This steady increase in budget has both added to the state’s economy and helped foster West Virginia-based small business growth. Currently employing approximately 350 government contract and civil servant employees, NASA’s IV&V Program has nearly doubled in staff in the last 18 years. While a large portion of these employees are West Virginia natives, the IV&V Program has attracted its fair share of those coming from out of state, ranging anywhere from California to Texas. It’s even allowed for some who previously left the state a chance to come home.

While IV&V is certainly interested in attracting engineers, scientists and professionals already in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, the program also focuses on engaging and providing STEM resources to the students of West Virginia. Through educational programs and workshops run by the Educator Resource Center (ERC) and a partnership with Fairmont State University, NASA’s IV&V Program holds various workshops for educators that allows them to take NASA’s broad range of STEM knowledge directly to the classroom. The ERC also hosts student workshops onsite, which allows students to come visit and tour the IV&V facility. The ERC directly impacts around 12,000 students per year, and an additional 12,000 through the resources provided to the educators of West Virginia.

The NASA IV&V ERC is also leading the West Virginia robotics effort, with 14 unique competitions being held right here in the state. To name a few, the FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL), Jr. FLL, Zero Robotics, VEX IQ, VEX University, and the VEX tournaments are hosted at Fairmont State University each year. The ERC is also proud of its most recent effort, the Cyber Robotics Coding Competition (CRCC), which is a free, self-paced online coding competition that features integrated 3D simulations of educational robots within realistically rendered simulation scenes. Students can write, test and evaluate their code while solving problems from the real world. This program was piloted this year and partnered with 18 schools across the state. In terms of overall robotics growth, the ERC has seen programs, such as Jr. FLL (ages 6-10) grow from 6 teams in 2013 to 115 teams in 2017. Likewise, the number of FLL (ages 9-14) teams has grown from 31 teams in 2009 to 116 teams in 2017. The FIRST Tech Challenge, primarily for middle school aged students, grew by 10 teams from 2016-2018. Finally, the VEX program, geared for high school students, grew from 12 teams in 2014 to 66 teams this year.

One of the many robotics Tournament held at Fairmont State University’s Falcon Center in Fairmont, WV.

IV&V employs what is referred to as the “Pipeline Method”, which essentially provides STEM outreach “touchpoints” throughout a West Virginia students’ academic career. Starting with the engagement opportunities mentioned above, IV&V goes on to provide students internship experience. Both high school and college internships are available to those with a GPA of 3.0 or higher and who meet the minimum age requirement of 16-years-old. While the majority of internships available at IV&V are STEM-related, intern opportunities in business management, communication and other areas have occurred. IV&V has hosted close to 800 student interns over the years, with the majority of them being West Virginia students. By providing students in the state opportunities for exposure to STEM throughout their academic careers, IV&V hopes to steer many of them into STEM careers that will benefit both them and the state of West Virginia.

This year, NASA’s IV&V Program celebrated its 25th anniversary, West Virginia’s first spacecraft (STF-1) and the renaming of the facility as the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in honor of the West Virginia native and NASA “hidden figure.”

IV&V’s Contribution to JPSS-1

Update: (Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Nov. 6, 2017) – The ULA Delta II rocket carrying the JPSS-1 mission for NASA and NOAA is delayed due to a faulty battery. The delay allows the team time to replace the battery on the Delta II booster. The vehicle and spacecraft remain stable. Launch of the JPSS-1 mission is scheduled for no earlier than Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017.

There isn’t just one satellite hovering above Earth that provides humans the ability to constantly monitor the potentially dangerous weather, but rather there are actually several of them. Soon, there will be one more hovering up there when the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) adds JPSS-1, the second of what will be a five-satellite JPSS constellation, when JPSS-1 launches on November 10, 2017. While the construction of the satellite itself was managed by NASA, once it is launched, it will belong to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA operates 16, soon to be 17, satellites in various orbits, ranging from low Earth orbits (LEO), starting at around 200 miles above the Earth, all the way out to geostationary orbits (GEO), which is around 22,000 miles above the Earth. The newest of NOAA’s fleet, JPSS-1, will be launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, as Vandenberg provides the best US-based launch location to place JPSS-1 in its own unique LEO orbit, called a “polar sun-synchronous” orbit. This particular type of orbit will allow JPSS-1 to circle the Earth from pole-to-pole at an altitude of about 512 miles above the Earth’s surface, crossing the equator 14 times daily, and allowing for full global coverage with its five onboard weather-hunting instruments twice a day!

What do these instruments do and how do they help me?

The instruments on board JPSS-1 provide real-time environmental data that allow people around the world to make important decisions about protection of life and property, national security, economic interests and vital environmental resources like coasts, oceans and ecological habitats. Of course let’s not forget they also provide some of the essential data for those weather maps your local meteorologist uses on the nightly news. The Advanced Technology Microwave Sounder (ATMS) and Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS) are two instruments that work together to provide profiles of atmospheric temperature, moisture and pressure. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) provides daily high-resolution imagery and radiometry across the visible to long wave infrared spectrum (those weather maps that were just mentioned). The Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite (OMPS) uses a spectrometer with UV bands for ozone measurements. Finally, the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES) works as a scanning radiometer, which measures reflected sunlight and thermal radiation emitted by the Earth. Versions of all five of these instruments have flown on previous satellites, but all the instruments that are going up on JPSS-1 have been improved since they were last flown. That means that with these upgraded instruments, JPSS-1 will be more effective in forecasting flooding, tropical cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and other high-impact weather events, providing more lead time to for Earth’s inhabitants to make important life and property decisions. JPSS-1 will also help in assessment of environmental hazards such as droughts, forest fires, poor air quality, and harmful coastal waters.

How did NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Program play a part in the development of the JPSS-1 satellite?

In short, our team worked on the “brains” of the satellite, the flight software (FSW). The primary activities in controlling the satellite were split into two different bins, each being handled by its own processor or computer. The computer that handles the control of the spacecraft, such as extending the solar panel, changing spacecraft attitude, or igniting the thrusters to change orbit, is called the Spacecraft Control Processor (SCP). The Command Data Processor (CDP) is the computer that handles the communications of the spacecraft, both externally to the ground network on Earth and internally to all of the spacecraft subsystems, like the instruments. The CDP is additionally responsible for collecting, storing and downloading to Earth the science data that was captured by the five onboard instruments.

IV&V also assessed the CDP interfacing to two of the instruments, VIIRS and CrIS, as those instruments were using a new-to-JPSS data interface, called SpaceWire, to create a connection from the CDP to those instruments. IV&V followed along with and assessed the development of the FSW from the point when requirements were being determined for what the computers needed to do to satisfy the mission objectives, all the way to the point where the completed FSW was loaded onto the computers, connected to other flight hardware, and was tested to see if it worked the way it was supposed to. IV&V made sure the JPSS-1 FSW works as it is supposed to, does not do what it is not supposed to do, and responds as expected when the spacecraft encounters adverse conditions.

Now with JPSS-1 soon to be watching over us all, we will all be able to watch our nightly weather forecast with much more confidence in determining if we will need our umbrella for the following workday.

Jeremy Fienhold
Systems Engineer

IV&V Intern Alden Param

Name: Alden Param
Age: 22
Hometown: Lake Forest, CA
College: Cal Poly Pomona, CA
Major: Electrical Engineering
Anticipated Graduation Date: Spring 2019

Why did you apply for the NASA Internship?
I had an internship last summer with Irvine Valley College and the California Space Grant Consortium working on a NASA project (PRANDTL-M at AFRC). This year, I applied to internships because I wanted to continue working on something similar. I applied to NASA internships all over the country, applying for specifics projects I would love to work on relating to the avionics/engineering field I want to work in. NASA IV&V had a project I was passionate about, and I took the opportunity right when I saw it despite having to travel to West Virginia for the internship.

What are you doing for NASA (brief summary of intern project)?
I worked on a project called DRACUS under the mentorship of Steven Hard. This project is a development of a multi-rotor UAV (otherwise known as quad-copter or drone) that will assist NASA IV&V in small scale hardware/software testing. The purpose is to develop different payloads to attach to the multi-rotor in order to do different types of aerial testing. NASA IV&V is primarily a software facility, and using a UAV platform such as this is a good step in implementing hardware knowledge and hands on testing into the program.

What do you like most about working for NASA?
Working for NASA has always been a dream for me, and it was awesome to be able to get a taste of what it would be like to work for them in the future. My mentors, other NASA IV&V employees, and fellow interns all made the experience an awesome one. Everyone around me was so passionate and goal driven and that rubbed off on me as well. Due to the environment and resources in NASA, I was able to accomplish work I didn’t think I was capable of. Lastly, my favorite thing about working with NASA this summer were the constant challenges I faced and overcame that helped me gain, hands on experience and develop as an engineer (all while having a great time of course).

IV&V Intern Jonathan Wimer

I am a freshman at West Virginia University studying both aerospace and mechanical engineering. During my first few years of college, I plan to join the WVU Engineers without Borders club to apply my STEM knowledge to serving communities. I grew up attending NASA Educator Resource Center programs such as TARC rocketry, FIRST robotics, and Small Satellites for Secondary students, which inspired me to pursue a career in the space industry. I have been involved in FIRST Lego League (FLL) Robotics for six years; two as a team member, three as a mentor, and this past year as a coach for a junior robotics team. In my spare time I enjoy playing basketball, practicing my trumpet, and amateur photography.  During my internship this summer, I beta-tested a curriculum sent by Johnson Space Center on porting Core Flight System software onto an AR Drone 2.0 platform. The goal of the project was to modify and improve the application as appropriate, and to create a document reviewing the curriculum which will be sent back to JSC for improvement. This internship has provided me with valuable experience in a professional work environment, insight into STEM fields, and improved programming abilities. I hope to one day land a job in the space industry and contribute to NASA’s mission.

 

 

IV&V Intern Sebastian Reger

Hello. I am Sebastian Reger. I come from Buckhannon, a small town in central West Virginia with not even 6,000 residents. After graduating from high school, I sought to keep doors open for the future and pursue my interests in problem solving/technology. This kept me nearby at West Virginia University. In college, I have performed music as a trumpet player in the Mountaineer Marching Band. My sophomore year, I began leading the trumpet section of over 60 members and was the president of WVU’s IEEE club. At first, I failed, but my new uncovered passion for leadership drove me to success toward the end of these roles. I chose NASA again this summer because of my interests in building, whether it is a project or making a system more efficient in a government environment. I also love space. In the future, I hope to find a method of integrating my entrepreneurial, leadership, and problem solving passions into a way to impact people and the world around me.

 

 

IV&V Intern Emily Kearney

Name: Emily Kearney
Age: 20
Education: Graduated From Jefferson High School in 2015. Currently a rising junior at West Virginia Wesleyan College
Area of Study: Engineering and Physics at the Undergraduate Level
Unique Facts: I can touch my nose with my tongue. I enjoy camping. I enjoy ballet.

What Brought You to NASA: NASA definitely has a big reputation in the worlds of Physics and Engineering. I figured that it would be a good place to explore for a potential career.

Where You See Yourself in Your Career: I’m not sure. I hope that I’m doing hands-on work or coding. I’ve always been fond of working with my hands, but I took my first class in programming this recent semester. I really liked it. NASA seems to be a good environment for either type of position.

 

IV&V Intern Abigail Ida

Name: Abigail Ida
Age: 20
Education: Senior at Arizona State University
Area of Study: Software Engineering
Unique Fact: I’m a certified Starbucks Barista

Why NASA?
I was introduced to NASA through the Rocksat-C program. I joined the team when studying at West Virginia University and through this program my interested in the software engineering field spiked. Not only was I proud of the payload that was constructed but NASA helped me to achieve something I never sought possible for myself. I entered the software engineering field not knowing a whole lot about it but NASA has helped me to push my limits on what I know and has given me the confidence and support to reach for the stars.

The Future…
After I enter my career field I see myself in a positive work environment that is always learning and encourages improvement and innovation. I am specializing in web applications and could see myself working on constructing applications as a future job. NASA has provided me with the experience building flight software for small payloads and that has been a really exciting and rewarding experience. I could also see myself doing something related to that as well. I would like to build applications, websites and possibly start my own online company.

IV&V Intern Caomi Fitz

Name: Caomi Fitz
Age: 16 years old
Education: I go to East Fairmont High School, and I am a rising junior
Intended Major: I intend to study either psychiatry or psychology
Unique facts about myself: I love to knit, read books, and listen to music.  My favorite meal is ribs and mashed potatoes.
What brought you to NASA: The unique experience this internship gives me, and to learn more about a possible future career.
Where you see yourself after you enter into your career: Forming friendships, giving back to my community, and walking my dogs every day.

IV&V Intern Lian Dunlevy

My name is Lian Dunlevy and I was born and raised in Morgantown West Virginia, and I am the youngest intern this year. I will be a junior at Morgantown High School at the end of my internship and would like to go into some form of technical entrepreneurship in the future or something where I am able to work with tech and the public. I am currently on the MARS (Mountaineer Area Robotics) team which was inducted into the FIRST world hall of fame last year. In my spare time, I like to shoot in competitive pistol competitions.

 

IV&V Intern Morgan Cassels

Name: Morgan Leann Cassels
Age: 21
Hometown: Weirton, WV
High School: Weir High School in Weirton, WV
College: West Virginia University (WVU) in Morgantown, WV
Major: Industrial and Management Systems Engineering
Anticipated Graduation Date: Spring 2018

Why you applied for a NASA internship?
I learned of the NASA IV&V internship program through Dr. Majid Jaridi, Director of NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium. I realized that the NASA IV&V internship program would provide an opportunity to gain real world experience while applying the knowledge I learned through my years studying at WVU. Through the Space Grant Consortium, I applied for the position with the guidance of Candy Cordwell, Program Manager.

What do you like most about working for NASA?
From the first day of this experience, the NASA IV&V employees and mentors have been extremely helpful in ensuring the interns are comfortable and have the resources to complete our best work. My favorite part of this experience is the opportunity to work with such an influential workforce within NASA IV&V.

What are you doing for NASA (brief summary of intern project)?
I am working with Mentor Mr. Marcus Fisher and fellow intern Mr. Rosemberth Lopez. Our project is part of the nationwide effort to observe the Solar Eclipse on the afternoon of August 21, 2017. Our goal is to design and build a payload which can attach to the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium high-altitude balloon and record NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) data along the ecliptic path.

Where do you see yourself in your future?
In the future I plan to graduate from WVU with a degree in Industrial and Management Systems Engineering. I plan to pursue a master’s degree at West Virginia University after graduation.