SMA Program Profile: Independent Verification and Validation
NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Program, based at NASA’s IV&V Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia, is a component of the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance (OSMA).
Led by Director Greg Blaney, the IV&V Program serves to reduce risk associated with safety- and mission-critical software.
The IV&V Program was founded in 1993 by OSMA with a specific focus on assuring critical software for the agency’s highest profile missions. “There was a recognition that software was playing an increasingly important role in safety and success of missions,” said IV&V Strategic Communications Office Lead Jeffrey Northey.
IV&V examines critical software by asking three deceptively simple questions: 1. Is the system doing what it’s supposed to do? 2. Is it not doing what it’s not supposed to do? 3. Is the system going to behave appropriately under adverse conditions?
Asking these simple questions, IV&V found over 60 high-severity issues last year that could have led to mission failure — loss of a major asset, loss of life or injury to humans — including an issue on the International Space Station (ISS).
In 2014, the ISS IV&V team discovered a software defect that could have resulted in the failure of the Fault Detection Isolation and Recovery (FDIR) system to detect an ammonia leak in one of the ammonia/water loop heat exchangers.
The IV&V team identified the issue in the configuration of the range-checking algorithm in which the lower limit value was incorrectly set. The specified lower limit would not alert the FDIR of the need to respond to the existence of an ammonia leak, which would have resulted in the undetected presence of a hazardous gas in the crew environment. Because of IV&V’s involvement, the defect was detected and the risk was averted.
As with ISS, IV&V works with programs and projects to uncover and rectify critical issues; the goals are one and the same. “Everything we do is in perfect alignment with the agency Strategic Plan,” said Blaney. “Our goal is to help all the missions achieve mission success…. Because we are a team member, we are there for [our clients’] mission success.”
Whenever a third party comes in to critique work, there’s a natural tendency to be defensive or uncertain, said Northey. “There’s a misconception that it’s going to be a burden, that it will take a lot of time to respond to findings and that it will create overhead. That’s not the case; there is tremendous benefit to what we bring to the table.”
The numbers don’t lie. IV&V has a proven track record of finding issues that are key concerns for the developers. “With the metric that we have, we find that 96% of the issues we give the developer are accepted,” said Blaney. “That’s a very high percentage of issues. It means we are finding stuff that they agree with and are willing to fix.”
IV&V gives programs and projects higher confidence that their products are error-free and are meeting mission needs. It also increases the likelihood of finding high-risk issues earlier in the project lifecycle, which allows time for comprehensive solutions, instead of quick fixes.
IV&V will continue to play an invaluable role in the agency as NASA works towards the next generation of missions, with more complex objectives and in harsher environments.
IV&V is more than a benefit to the agency; it is a necessary safeguard against risk and errors for NASA’s most important missions, said Northey.