Keeping Pace with Human Spaceflight: An Agile Approach to Independent Verification and Validation


Keeping Pace with Human Spaceflight: An Agile Approach to Independent Verification and Validation

Our lives are full of winning combinations: peanut butter and jelly, bacon and anything, and now Agile development and independent verification and validation. If these are new terms to you, IV&V is like having a really smart proofreader check your work to make sure nothing blows up. Agile is an incremental development technique. You can read more about Agile development from my colleagues in Engility’s Agile DevOps ENnovation Center.

Engility’s NASA team applies Agile IV&V to things like the Orion spacecraft, a capsule designed to take humans further into space than ever before. This next human-rated spacecraft needs to keep astronauts safe while meeting the mission requirements of deep space exploration. Orion will return astronauts to lunar orbit, explore asteroids, and even Mars. Now imagine the software needed for Orion’s complex mission. Remember when I compared IV&V to proofreading with high stakes? A simple IV&V job might be a help-wanted ad going into the paper…so by comparison, Orion is James Joyce’s Ulysses. Orion’s software creates a resource challenge for everyone involved in its design, launch, and evaluation…especially those of us on the IV&V team. IV&V focuses on adding assurance that safety- and mission-critical software will do what it is supposed to do, not do what it is not supposed to do, and respond appropriately under adverse conditions.

Prior to flying humans on board Orion in Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2), Orion will undergo two separate test flights. The first, Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), occurred in December 2014, launching Orion into a two-orbit flight to test various systems on board the vehicle. The second test flight will be EM-1, scheduled to launch in early 2020, which will send the Orion capsule to orbit the moon and spend close to three weeks in space, a mission which will be very similar to the first flight with humans on EM-2.

As the software development for EM-1 became more mature, IV&V’s Orion team noticed the negative effects of trying to add assurance for such complex flight software with its current staffing level. We needed to keep up with the flight software developer’s fast-paced Agile development cycle while adding assurance for everything that IV&V had identified as an area of concern to be analyzed.

Without the ability to clone ourselves and with no desire to slow down the flight software developers’ schedule, we worked with NASA to develop a novel approach to safely accelerating IV&V for Orion: Agile IV&V. We apply relevant Agile principles to the management and execution of IV&V, to create a winning combination.

Agile IV&V uses an adaptive risk-targeted (“Follow the Risk”) Capability Based Assurance approach. This approach has allowed the Orion IV&V team to add assurance of the areas of highest risk to Orion flight software, while at the same time allowing for flexibility to shift focus rapidly if the areas of risk changed for any reason. Orion IV&V has also focused on providing not only negative findings (issues and risks) but also positive findings, assurance conclusions that confirm the flight software’s ability to do what it is supposed to do, not do what it is not supposed to do, and respond appropriately under adverse conditions. This provides a more balanced assessment of the condition of the software than simply providing the negative findings as in the past. The Agile IV&V approach enables Orion IV&V to continue to provide high-value findings while adapting to the rapidly changing environment of Orion flight software development and verification.

Keeping Pace With Human Space Flight The approach has been so successful, that we have now assisted our customer in presenting the approach outside of the IV&V program to others in NASA. We are now excited about how this winning combination might help others.

Peanut butter and jelly has had a good run, and now we’ll see how many engineers pack Agile IV&V into their lunch boxes.

Please check out the 8 Tips for Assessing Risk in Complex Software Development blog for more details on the Agile IV&V approach.

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Posted by John Bradbury

I have been supporting NASA Human Space Flight programs for 36 years as a contractor. I have worked on safety- and mission-critical software for the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and currently the Orion spacecraft as the Engility project lead for NASA’s Orion Independent Verification and Validation project. I am located at NASA’s IV&V Facility in Fairmont, WV