AFROTC cadets drive software development advancements at TAP Lab

  • Published
  • By Steven Polliard and Dave Kelley, SSC TAP Lab
Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFROTC) cadets taking part in Space System Command’s Tools, Applications and Processing (TAP) Lab’s inaugural internship program had the opportunity to demonstrate their software development skills when the Tap Lab hosted U.S. Space Force (USSF) Col. Corey Ramsby, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) commander out of Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and a University of Colorado (CU) Boulder leadership contingent from AFROTC Det. 105. 
During the leadership visit, TAP Lab’s AFROTC cadet interns demonstrated an Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT)-developed software application called AFIT Sensor and Scene Emulation Tool (ASSET). ASSET emulates data downlinked from Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) and environmental satellites acquired and sustained by the SSC Space Sensing directorate, such as the Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS), and the Wide Field of View (WFOV) technical demonstration, amongst others.
The AFROTC leadership visit also served as an opportunity for TAP Lab to highlight how the internship program implements USSF’s University Partnership Program (UPP), which now includes 14 universities nationwide. USSF selects universities to join the UPP based on the quality of their STEM degree offerings, space-related research laboratories and initiatives, while including universities from underrepresented populations. 
“We appreciate the partnership and what the team at the Lab is doing to help develop our Airmen and Guardians,” said Col. Bradley Spears, Det. 105 commander. “We all walked away impressed, and I know Col. Ramsby is thinking about how to replicate this best practice.”
TAP Lab contributes funding and leverages ASSET to enable vendors to test data exploitation applications with unclassified data, vastly improving flexibility for the space sensing research and development mission. Since interning at TAP Lab, the cadets have directly contributed to the success and enhancement of ASSET in several ways.
“They have already added a number of important features to the kinematic target model and target injector tools, including a robust graphical user interface,” said Steve Polliard, TAP Lab director. “The team is also using ASSET to create curated datasets of synthetic OPIR data. We can now provide curated data to our vendors who are developing data exploitation applications. The net result of their terrific work is a more capable, more user-friendly ASSET system that ultimately benefits our researchers and end users.”
“TAP Lab is proud to be the driving force behind this trailblazing new internship program,” Polliard said. “The structure seamlessly links world-class technical education with USSF, SSC, AFROTC, and AFIT missions to supercharge our cadet interns’ professional growth.”
The paid internship is sponsored by AFIT and provides hands-on experience with a real-world DoD application and exposes the interns to AFIT and the Lab’s OPIR and environmental missions in a classified environment. It also provides mentoring by top software engineering, data processing, and OPIR experts at AFIT and TAP Lab.
The initial class of interns are all Colorado School of Mines students enrolled in Det. 105 through an AFROTC crosstown agreement. Dr. Bryan Steward and Maj. Shannon Young at AFIT and Capt. Ryan Collazo, a TAP Lab alum now at Det. 105, worked with TAP Lab to establish the new internship program, which started in January of 2023.
Last year, TAP Lab hosted USSF Gen. David “DT” Thompson, vice chief of space operations, Dr. Joel Mozer, USSF chief scientist, and the president of the University of Colorado System. During the visit, Thompson emphasized the importance of USSF-sponsored academic programs and ensuring their alignment with USSF missions. Gen. Thompson noted how TAP Lab’s mission, capabilities, and proximity to Colorado University, Boulder, and other Colorado Front Range research universities create an ideal opportunity to execute the UPP vision. Additionally, Thompson welcomed the University of Colorado System as a member of USSF’s UPP in a formal signing ceremony.
With a focus on fostering innovation and nurturing the talents of tomorrow's space leaders, the UPP and intern programs, like the one hosted at TAP Lab, are helping shape the future for the space industry.
Second Lt. Lily Brewster started as TAP lab’s first AFIT intern earlier this year. Brewster was commissioned in May and recently reported to active duty for cyber officer training at Kessler Air Force Base, Miss. Cadet interns Angela Grayson, Joshua Higgins, Tom Jeansson, Ethan Ladino, and Quint Von Lengerke will continue contributing to the mission through the summer before returning to classes this fall and later commissioning for entry into the U.S. Space or Air Forces.
“These high-powered cadet interns are doing blockbuster work and will be poised to excel on day one of active duty as commissioned Guardians or Airmen,” Polliard said, “The program supports, strongly, UPP goals and aligns with the chief of space operations’ recent [CSO Notice to Guardians] #13 “Telling Our Story” that encourages us to be ambassadors for the Space Force and participate in outreach initiatives. Finally, for SSC, these AFIT-sponsored interns are developing test data event sets critical to our Space Sensing Data Exploitation functions … a win-win for all!”
TAP Lab is collaborating with AFIT and Det. 105 to expand the intern program to 10 cadets starting in summer 2024. The program is open to all qualified, security-cleared cadets enrolled through Det. 105.