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 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 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.

The Latest from the STF-1 Team

The development of the first CubeSat to be built in the state of West Virginia, Simulation-to-Flight 1 (STF-1), is underway. On April 30, 2015, the STF-1 development team held its first table-top review to walk through the mission plan, technical objectives, components, budgets (mass, power, volume, communications, and cost), risks and schedule. The team also identified all major system components. These components include the GOMspace A3200 on-board computer, L-3 Cadet radio, batteries and electrical power system from Clydespace and Pumpkin 3U Chassis. This review was a huge success!

In addition, in late April 2015, the STF-1 team was contacted by the NASA Education Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) effort, with respect to a potential launch opportunity, and could launch as early as November 2016. The team is anxiously waiting to hear if we have a launch.

In the meantime, the STF-1 team is pushing forward. The team is actively working on power simulations to ensure there is sufficient power generation to support all mission objectives, development of an Advanced CubeSat Simulation Library (ACSL), initiating development of all four science instruments, and beginning to purchase spacecraft components.

The development and demonstration of the ACSL is the primary mission objective and is aimed to reduce hardware reliance and provide a rapidly deployable CubeSat development and test environment. We are excited about our simulation approach and will go into more details later as the architecture matures. In the meantime, take some time and submit your best ideas to design the Mission Patch for West Virginia’s first CubeSat in SPACE!

Mission Website: www.stf1.com

Mission Patch Design: http://www.wvspacegrant.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Mission-Patch-Design-STF1.pdf

-The STF-1 Team