The Times West Virginian

March 30, 2014

NASA IV&V, TMC play key role in launch of satellite

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — A modeling and simulation product developed by the NASA Independent Verification and Validation Facility and TMC Technologies, both in Fairmont, recently played a key role in launching a satellite off the ground.

Brandon Bailey is the lab manager of the Jon McBride Software Testing and Research (JSTAR) Laboratory at NASA IV&V. He explained that the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite is a mission of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency to measure rainfall and precipitation. The satellite was launched on Feb. 27.

TMC Technologies was the prime contractor on a contract with NASA IV&V in which the GPM Operational Simulator, known as GO-SIM, was developed. The team led by TMC had the task of building a simulator for the GPM satellite that would give the NASA IV&V Program the ability to perform testing on the flight software.

The group emulated the hardware through the development of the simulator and tested the software to confirm that it did what it was supposed to do and didn’t do what it wasn’t supposed to do. This helped provide assurance to the agency that the software was ready for the mission, Bailey said.

Wade Linger, president and CEO of TMC Technologies, explained that TMC was hired as a contractor in support of NASA IV&V several years ago. This chief engineer support contract has involved several tasks, including building the JSTAR Lab and developing GO-SIM.

TMC is working every day on simulation projects, which also have a future from a commercial standpoint, he said. The potential applications outside of NASA are widespread.

Linger said it’s too expensive and sometimes logistically impossible to bring pieces of hardware to Fairmont to test. By replicating a piece of hardware in a software simulator, the JSTAR Lab can evaluate and test software that was written by other NASA centers before it is placed on a spacecraft and blasted off.

“With a piece of software, if you’re testing against a simulator and something goes wrong, you’re not going to physically break anything because you’re just running the software,” he said.

GO-SIM also had an opportunity to serve as a support tool during the actual launch of the GPM satellite, Linger said.

Bailey explained that the people of the Goddard Space Flight Center asked for a copy of the simulation to use as a backup utility tool in the event that something unexpected happened during the launch and the installation stages of the mission.

“It was there to aid in trouble-shooting efforts,” he said. “It provided a really good capability for this program.”

NASA IV&V is currently developing a simulator to test the software that runs on the James Webb Space Telescope, a mission managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, and TMC is heavily involved in the project. Because the local team already knows the simulator architecture, it is able to reuse a lot of the work that it did with GO-SIM, which provides cost savings, Bailey said.

“It’s a unique approach to the way that we’re doing the work that is outside of the way NASA typically does business,” he said. “It’s a cheaper solution and provides more flexibility.”

Bailey mentioned that in 2012, the NASA IV&V Program’s Independent Test Capability team, which is made up of a couple civil servants and TMC, submitted GO-SIM for NASA’s Software of the Year competition.

The Goddard Space Flight Center chose the entry as its representative for the agency-wide contest, and GO-SIM was awarded honorable mention. While GO-SIM didn’t win the entire competition, getting that far was a great accomplishment, he said.

“There’s a lot of people taking notice of this work,” Bailey said.

As a subcontractor to TMC Technologies, Allegheny Science and Technology was also involved in the GO-SIM contract. Linger said this project shows how West Virginia companies are able to do cool things because of the presence of the NASA facility in Fairmont.

NASA IV&V in Fairmont is involved in projects that NASA representatives across the country are appreciating, which helps bring more contract work to the area, he said.

He praised Gregory Blaney, director of the NASA IV&V Facility, for being very entrepreneurial and doing a great job of marketing the program’s abilities. Linger said small business owners like himself need that kind of aggressiveness from the government so contract work is available for them to bid on.

“It’s kind of hard to not recognize the relevance of the Fairmont facility,” he said.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.