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 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 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.

 

 

IV&V Intern Rosemberth Lopez

Age: 22
Hometown: Fort Washington, Maryland
High School Attended: National Christian Academy
College Attending: West Virginia University
Field of Study and Year: Junior studying Aerospace Engineering
Unique fact about me: I am an Air Force cadet in the WVU ROTC program

Why you applied for the NASA Internship? While working on undergraduate research, through the West Virginia Space Grant Consortium (WVSGC) Ms. Candy Cordwell, program manager, informed me of the opportunity. Once being informed, I took the necessary actions to make sure I could be part of the NASA IV&V team. Working at NASA IV&V would open many doors for me and would help me relate the material that was thought in the classroom and apply it to real world scenarios. It would also give me a great first person point of view of how an engineering environment feels like and a good way to start learning the ins and outs of the career field.

What are you doing for NASA (brief summary of intern project)? I worked under Marcus Fisher and alongside fellow intern Morgan Cassels. We are working in creating and further developing a payload capable of carrying a NDVI camera to capture images of the surrounding vegetation during the total solar eclipse that will occur on August 21, 2017. We will be attaching our payload to a weather balloon designed by The West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, that will be launched from Southern Illinois.

What do you like most about working for NASA? I enjoy the atmosphere and environment that it has to offer. Not only is the staff helpful and cordial they show excitement and enthusiasm toward all the interns and making us feel at home. Also, walking through the halls of the buildings is like walking through the halls of an enormous library, in the sense that there is an abundance of knowledge here.

Where do you see yourself after entering in your career? Since I am currently enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) at West Virginia University, I will be commissioned as an Officer in the Air Force once I graduate with my Aerospace Engineering degree. While in the Air Force I plan on working as a Flight Test Engineer. After the Air Force I intend on working with the Department of Defense but still staying on the engineering side of it all.

IV&V Intern Morgan Novak

Hi, my name is Morgan Novak. I am from a small town in southeast Texas called Hamshire. With Hamshire’s population of about 1500, my household takes up a whopping 1%. As the second oldest of way too many siblings, coming to West Virginia was a nice change in scenery. It is so beautiful here!

This year I will be a sophomore at the University of North Texas. I am double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and minoring in Math. I am interested in both the hardware and software side of things. I love learning more about new topics/ideas and showing that knowledge off in hackathons.

In my free time I play soccer with my friends and family and last year I coached my little sister’s team. This year, however, I was low on free time due to starting my own company. I am currently testing the second prototype of my product before I pursue anything further.

Getting an internship here has been dream come true! I have wanted to work for NASA ever since I was little. In my junior year of high school, I participated in the Texas High school Aerospace Scholars (HAS) program where I got to stay at JSC for a week and work with real engineers. Participating in these two opportunities has sealed the deal; after graduating from UNT my goal is to get a full time position contributing to the advancement of space travel.

 

Space Flight Design Challenge ROCKSAT C-17 Update

SPFC Mission Patch-RSC-17In an effort to provide students with the stepping stones necessary to carry out the goals of the Space Flight Design Challenge, academic institutions have been provided with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through RockSat-C. The NASA IV&V Space Flight Design Challenge is an initiative aimed towards engaging students of West Virginia in the STEM disciplines needed to successfully build and test critical systems. By enhancing the knowledge and capabilities of students through hands-on spacecraft development, they will be enabled to compete in the development of their own flight systems in space. Primarily, the overall goal of this initiative is to foster innovative advancements in both high school and college students across the nation. As a result, students will be equipped to compete in the fabrication & operation of flight systems in Low Earth Orbit via amateur radio operations.

Through RockSat-C, students and mentors can actively participate in the design & build phases of their own scientific payload. Inevitably, this payload will be launched on a sounding rocket out of Wallops Flight Facility at the close of the academic school year. The fall semester is comprised of engaging students in the full design & review process whilst the primary goal of spring semester is to prepare each team for the Launch Readiness Review. In order to do so successfully, each of the payloads will undergo multiple phases of testing and integration to ensure its suitability for flight.

This year’s Rock Sat-C mission statement:

   “To embark on a collaborative effort with academic institutions across the state of West Virginia for development and expansion of knowledge and practical experience in designing, building, launching, and operating space payloads.”

In order to accomplish this vision, our teams have developed a variety of experiments that will inevitably benefit the small sat community. Of those scientific payloads are:

  1. Bridge Valley Community Technical College Stain Gauge Experiment
    1. Objective: To measure strain on a series of material samples and model flight path
  2. West Virginia University Langmuir Probe Experiment
    1. Objective: Measure plasma density in upper atmosphere
  3. Blue Field State College Vehicle and Inertial Measurement and Tracking Experiment
    1. Objective: To gather real-time flight data & Use this data to determine the flight path, trajectory, altitude, and rotation of the rocket
  4. Fairmont State University Flight Dynamics Analysis Experiment
    1. Objective: To capture and store real-time flight data, then show the flight path.
  5. Blue Ridge Community Technical College PiGen (Piezo Electric Generator) Experiment
    1. Objective: To measure the output of 3 Piezoelectric generators on the X Y and Z axis with 2 ADCs.
  6. West Virginia Wesleyan College Harvest Energy Experiment

    1. Objective: To harvest energy by using a Thermocouple and Piezoelectric crystal on the rocket flight.

Isometric ViewDimetric View

Shown above is an Isometric (top) and Dimetric (bottom) view of the canister. (Image by Roger Targosky)

Throughout the Conceptual, Preliminary, and Critical Design review, WV-SPACE has displayed both scientific merit & a feasible implementation plan. At this point the payload has been largely cleared by COSGC and Wallops Flight Facility and has been selected to fly in canister #5 and share space Oregon Institute of Technology. The payload is projected to launch aboard a Terrier-Improved Orion sounding rocket on June 22nd 2017.

Manifest

We would also like to send ours thanks to NASA’s Independent Verification & Validation Program for supporting our student outreach initiatives and congratulate all of our dedicated teams for being a part of the Space Flight Design Challenge and cleared for launch.

Team_Photo

Emily Certain | Student Trainee
NASA’s Independent Verification & Validation Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

Intern Q&A: Esha Halabe and Katie Warner

IMG_1764
Name:
Esha Halabe
Home Town: Morgantown, West Virginia
High School Attended: Morgantown High School
College Attending: Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
Semester: 1st Semester Freshman
Major: Materials Science and Chemical Engineering
Why you applied for a NASA internship? I applied for a NASA internship to apply my learned textbook theory to real-world problems, to gain hands-on engineering practice in a professional work environment, and to explore various STEM fields.
What are you doing for NASA (brief summary of intern project)? The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Observatory relies on a robust Fault Management system. To verify and validate that system, I am helping the IV&V team generate a Database and Test Bed to analyze JWST’s many system and subsystem components. The goal of my project is to add to the overall assurance of the Fault Management system.
What do you like most about working for NASA? The best part about working for NASA is getting to be a part of such a hardworking and innovative team. We’re working toward developing groundbreaking systems and technology, and I’m learning something new every day.

IMG_1755
Name: Katherine Warner
Home Town: Morgantown
High School Attended/College: University High School/currently enrolled at West Virginia University, studying electrical engineering. She is in her sophomore year.
Why you applied for a NASA internship? I wanted to learn more about NASA and the work it does, explore potential careers with the agency, and get some “real-world” experience to help find the best career for me.
What are you doing for NASA (brief summary of intern project)? I am comparing the simulation environments that test/will test MPCVs like Orion, the one being launched in December, before they are launched to ensure everything runs as it should in every situation.
What do you like most about working for NASA? The atmosphere is so much more than what I expected- to be honest I did not expect much so I wouldn’t be too impressed or displeased- and I cannot wait to spend most of my summer around such great people learning from knowledgeable but approachable and personable mentors.

 

 

 

Moving On: Intern Sarah Layman Heads to Charleston, W.Va.

Former NEAP intern and year-round intern, Sarah Layman, recently graduated from West Virginia University, earning her Bachelor of Science in industrial and management systems engineering. Sarah started at IV&V in the summer of 2009 and has worked here every summer since. She will be leaving the program to go to work full-time for FedEx Express in Charleston, W.Va. as an associate engineer.

I can still remember the day that one of my friends told my mom about the NEAP (NASA IV&V Engineering Apprenticeship Program) opportunity. I was so mad at her, because I knew that there was no way I could get out of that one. I was on the swim team at the time, and the only thing that I wanted to do that summer was be a lifeguard and get a tan.

The next thing that I knew, I was filling out the application with my mom. I decided to play along because I remember thinking to myself, “There’s no way I’ll actually get this.” Well just my luck, a month or so later I received a letter in the mail from Jess White telling me that, guess what… you will be a NEAP intern for the summer of 2009!

Intern S. Layman (2)

I wouldn’t say that I started that summer with an open mind. I was so unbelievably nervous, because “This is NASA, I can’t mess up!” Jess will attest to the fact that I sat at my workstation and didn’t say a word to anyone for at least the first week. At some point I started talking to my partner on the project and people that sat around me more, and we even started to eat lunch together outside.

IMG_1229

When people used to ask me where I was working for the summer I’d say NASA IV&V, and their response was always “Wow.” I quickly realized that this was an awesome opportunity that not every 16-year-old got, and it was one that could really benefit my future. When I got into that mind-set, I was able to open up and really start learning. And after that, well the rest was history. I haven’t wanted to leave IV&V since. Although, I did have to do something difficult, I had to tell my mom that she was right and thank her. I’ve learned so much from this organization, and I hope that my working here has benefited the IV&V Program in some small way.

As I move forward with my career, there are a few key ideals that I will take with me from IV&V.

  • Safety is everyone’s responsibility; it must not be sacrificed in any way.
  • I must always do my work to the highest standard and continually look for improvement.
  • It is important to balance my work life with my home life.

IMG_0808

IV&V gives high school and college interns the chance to work as professionals. We are given a mentor, but we’re expected to act and work as any other employee. This independence allowed me to learn quickly how to communicate, manage my time, accomplish projects goals, and so much more. I can go forward knowing that I have not only developed important technical skills, but I have also learned how to work effectively in this environment. Thank you to all that have helped me along the way, as well as all of the interns that you have and will impact every year. Your time and effort is appreciated. Also, a special thanks to Jess White for all that he does with the internship program, and so much more.

Sarah Layman
NEAP Assistant
NASA’s Independent Verification & Validation Program