NASA issues first urban air mobility Grand Challenge industry request

NASA has published its request for information from industry and other potential partners to participate in NASA’s Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Grand Challenge.

The NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) UAM vision is to revolutionize mobility around metropolitan areas by enabling a safe, efficient, convenient, affordable, environmentally friendly, and accessible air transport system.

In order to most effectively advance UAM, NASA is planning to host a series of UAM ecosystem-wide Grand Challenges to promote public confidence in UAM safety and facilitate community-wide learning while capturing the public’s imagination. NASA anticipates hosting the first of these Grand Challenges, GC-1, as early as the end of calendar year 2020. GC-1 is anticipated to challenge industry and other community participants to address foundational issues related to UAM vehicle design readiness and robustness for UAM operations. Following GC-1, future challenges in this series are anticipated to address key safety and integration barriers across the UAM ecosystem while also emphasizing critical operational challenges, such as commercial viability and public confidence in UAM operations around populated areas.

NASA is seeking highly motivated participants in the Grand Challenge series with the desire of achieving commercial operating capabilities. This is not anticipated to be a monetary award challenge, but rather the Grand Challenge will provide participants the opportunity to demonstrate their fieldable systems in a representative UAM environment.

NASA is releasing this RFI in conjunction with an industry day that can be referenced at and The industry day will be hosted in Seattle, WA at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront on November 1-2, 2018.

While the Industry Day will allow NASA to have an open interchange with the UAM community and clearly communicate the most recent plans for the UAM Grand Challenge, the responses to this RFI will allow NASA to obtain a more in depth look into the status of the industry and ensure the UAM Grand Challenge addresses the broader community’s needs, including understanding critical UAM barriers and how to potentially overcome them.

The primary goals of the RFI process are to:
• Collect industry and broader community input to help refine and optimize the Grand Challenge to best enhance and add value to industry efforts in accelerating UAM.
• Allow the government to assess the state-of-the-practice and state-of-the-art of the UAM ecosystem, including vehicle development, airspace capabilities development, and community integration.
• Gauge the level of interest from the UAM community in participating in the Grand Challenge, their ability to bring vehicle, airspace and infrastructure assets, and their anticipated capabilities.

NASA and the FAA are planning to collaboratively develop and implement the Grand Challenge series. NASA plans to share RFI responses, data collected, and lessons learned with the FAA throughout the Grand Challenge effort. NASA intends for the Grand Challenge to address information requirements and provide lessons learned to inform FAA policy decisions on safety, certification, operations, and airspace integration aspects of Urban Air Mobility.

For the Grand Challenge to be successful, NASA is expecting to partner with industry and other UAM community collaborators that are highly motivated to achieve a commercial operating capability through necessary technology development, testing, regulatory efforts, and other essential activities to enable safe commercial operations. The collaborations NASA feels are essential to make the Grand Challenge most effective include:
1) Vehicle developers providing functional UAM vehicles equipped with critical subsystems with a threshold level of demonstrated airworthiness.
2) Airspace management system developers providing airspace and air traffic management (ATM) technologies and services built and simulated to a threshold level of UAM airspace management system requirements.
3) The FAA to provide recommendations, guidance, and coordination with NASA.
4) Other UAM stakeholders including the general public, supporting infrastructure providers, standards organizations, local regulatory authorities, etc.

Vehicle and airspace participants will each be challenged to complete a series of common safety and integration scenarios. These scenarios are designed to represent real-world UAM operations and barriers necessary for certification and operational approval.

GC-1 is anticipated to provide a “proving ground” for vehicle developers to individually demonstrate the design readiness and robustness of their vehicles. The flight demonstrations from GC-1 will help inform means and methods of compliance development with the FAA, standards development, desired future airspace services, and airspace management system requirements. Future challenges in the series are anticipated to directly address complex integrated system-level scenarios necessary for UAM markets to be realized.

Vehicle developers are expected to provide and operate functional UAM vehicles with a demonstrated level of airworthiness. Participating vehicle developers will:
• Provide vehicle design, development, and test data to support the NASA airworthiness requirements.
• Conduct prescribed flight tests to benchmark vehicle performance and flight characteristics, including demonstration of the ability to safely handle failures and contingencies.
• Conduct safety and integration scenarios for the Grand Challenge including pre-defined interfaces with airspace management systems.

Vehicles that are proposed for inclusion in the Grand Challenge must be representative in size and configuration of a UAM system. For example, in GC-1, the minimum passenger carrying vehicle size would be one that has a payload capability of at least one person even if the vehicle were to be flown unmanned during the Grand Challenge. Sub-scale vehicles could be accepted in GC-1 if the vehicle meets the minimum size requirement (i.e., the ability to carry a payload equivalent to one person) and the company demonstrates a commitment and path to a full-scale UAM vehicle.

As part of the vehicle design readiness and robustness scenarios for GC-1, vehicle companies would be expected to demonstrate the full extent of their flight envelope, plan and fly predictable trajectories within required and desired performance metrics, predict and measure energy (e.g., battery and/or fuel) reserves, demonstrate noise, operate in winds, perform balked landings, and handle other simple failures and contingencies such as engine/motor out.

Beyond GC-1, future Grand Challenges in the series are anticipated to address key safety and integration barriers across the entire UAM ecosystem to emphasize critical operational challenges towards UAM operations around populated areas. Additional integrated vehicle, airspace, and community integration scenarios will likely demonstrate: interactions between vehicles and both traditional and UAM airspace management systems; the ability to detect and avoid other aircraft and hazards; handling the loss of primary communications, navigation, and surveillance capabilities; public acceptance or response to vehicle noise; etc.

Airspace and air traffic management companies and providers are expected to bring technologies and services built and simulated to be compatible with a baseline UAM ATM system design. These airspace and air traffic management participants will:
• Provide UAM ATM technologies that are compatible with a baseline UAM ATM system design and interfaces.
• Demonstrate capabilities that meet benchmark performance and connectivity requirements though simulations or live testing.
• Conduct safety and integration scenarios during the challenge, including pre-defined interfaces with vehicle systems.

GC-1 will likely implement a baseline UTM system with minimal UAM ATM system components. Company-provided UAM ATM services may be able to be implemented as a part of GC-1 scenarios in a “shadow mode” where they would receive live data and be asked to generate acceptable responses to the safety and integration scenarios, but would likely not directly influence the operations. A caveat to these statements may include a concept where vehicle and airspace management service suppliers team and create a single unified concept of operations for GC-1.

In Grand Challenge scenarios beyond GC-1, airspace companies would perform airspace management functions that could include: flight plan services, weather services, surveillance services, scheduling services, contingency management, separation services, UAM port operations, etc. It is possible for airspace providers to partner with vehicle developers to interact in real-time with the vehicle interface to perform the challenge scenarios.

Societal integration and acceptance of UAM operations including public acceptance, supporting infrastructure, operational integration, and the local regulatory environment are of paramount importance for UAM to be realized. The UAM Grand Challenge has potential to include and showcase many mutually beneficial activities. Examples might include infrastructure concepts such as UAM ports (i.e., vertiports, skyports, heliports, etc.) and charging stations being provided by partners, a public outreach campaign targeted at public confidence and acceptance, a strategic partnership with standards and operational organizations, local regulators’ assessment of local regulations, and demonstrations of capabilities and benefits of future Smart Cities.

NASA believes that to successfully conduct a UAM Grand Challenge as soon as 2020, essential interfaces and expectations must be available quickly. For GC-1, NASA believes the critical components are: airworthy vehicles; interfaces between vehicles and a basic UTM system; a set of common safety and integration scenarios; a common set of data collection capabilities; and a set of common range requirements to support participation by non-NASA test range providers. For Grand Challenges beyond GC-1, each of the elements above will progress as system-level requirements for vehicles, airspace systems, and test ranges are matured toward the goal of enabling testing of robust and scalable UAM operations.

For companies who plan to have a business model of passenger carrying aircraft, NASA anticipates providing a man-rated Airworthiness and Safety Review process even if there is no pilot onboard (either during the Grand Challenge or in anticipated future operations). The goal of the airworthiness process is to provide a flexible, risk management-based review that ensures the vehicle is airworthy and can be operated safely with the highest probability of mission success. The process will assess, communicate, and accept the residual risks of vehicle test and operation.

Airworthiness and safety of the vehicle will be evaluated by an independent review team based on the company’s derived standards. Attached is NASA’s “AFG-7900.3-001” document that can be used as a reference for an airworthiness and flight readiness process.

NASA anticipates providing a set of interface requirements and Interface Control Documents (ICDs) specifically for the Grand Challenge for vehicle and airspace providers to interact with a UAM ATM system. For GC-1, it is expected that a UTM system will be provided that UAM airspace and air traffic management stakeholders can utilize in GC-1 to start developing the essential interfaces needed for Grand Challenges beyond GC-1, as well as eventual UAM operations.

For future Grand Challenges, airspace and air traffic management systems developed by Grand Challenge participants will be encouraged. The interface requirements between vehicles and the UAM ATM system will allow vehicles to communicate with the airspace management system in standardized formats and perform functions necessary for UAM operations, such as: filing flight plans, obtaining flight approval, maintaining situation awareness of relevant airspace usage and restrictions, obtaining weather information, etc. The interface requirements between UAM airspace service providers and the UAM ATM system will allow extended services, such as weather, surveillance, scheduling, and conflict management.

In order to provide the airspace complexity desired for the more advanced scenarios (which will be described in the following section), it is anticipated that the Grand Challenge series will incorporate aspects of a Live, Virtual, Constructive (LVC) environment. An LVC environment enables the integration of live flight assets with virtual aircraft in a virtual airspace in order to ensure safety of the participants, aircraft, and test range while providing an environment that is relevant to each specific Grand Challenge scenario.

For GC-1, the LVC requirements are anticipated to be minimal. For Grand Challenges after GC-1, NASA may provide a testbed infrastructure that incorporates representative airspace, virtual elements, and core airspace and aircraft connection infrastructures to collect necessary data to evaluate aircraft and airspace performance. Connection and data collection requirements may vary based on the nature of a specific scenario and are planned to be defined as part of each scenario description.

NASA is planning to provide a test range option for challenge participants and is currently considering hosting the Grand Challenge at Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB); however, NASA would consider other test ranges that might be interested in building range capabilities for hosting the Grand Challenge, including company owned or preferred flight locations. The long-term goals of the Grand Challenge series include ensuring there is a national capability that allows UAM developers to test complex scenarios required for vehicle and airspace system development, testing, and verification in an on-demand nature.

The Grand Challenge consists of a series of “scenarios” that will provide participants with the ability to demonstrate the capabilities of their systems as a part of a broader, integrated UAM system. These scenarios will progress in difficulty and complexity, including starting with vehicle-only and airspace system-only scenarios and moving toward challenges that will require integration between vehicle and airspace systems and are representative of UAM operations around populated areas.

For GC-1, which is planned to be hosted in the late 2020 timeframe, vehicle participants will each be challenged to complete a series of performance characterization and safety-focused scenarios with a primary goal of helping move these vehicles toward certification. These scenarios include demonstrating the vehicle’s performance and flight envelope over nominal UAM-like missions and in off-nominal situations, such as the loss of an engine or motor.

Following GC-1 by approximately one year, a second challenge, GC-2, is planned to challenge both vehicle and airspace participants to complete a series of common safety and integration scenarios. These scenarios are designed to represent real-world UAM operations and help address barriers to certification and operational approval.

For Grand Challenges that may occur beyond GC-1 and GC-2, it is anticipated that vehicle and airspace participants would each be challenged to complete a series of more complex scenarios that build upon previous scenarios, focus on increased technological capabilities, and demonstrate an increased ability to operate in real urban operating environments and the National Airspace System.

NASA anticipates a substantial response from the entire UAM community. The primary participant(s) for the Grand Challenge will be asked to meet a broad set of criteria. In order to ensure a broad cross-section of the UAM community is represented, NASA is encouraging responses from many different types of service developers and providers to this RFI. Potential partners who may consider responding include the following sectors of the UAM community:
• UAM vehicle developers/operators
• Aircraft sub-system developers
• Airspace system developers and airspace service providers
• UAS avionics and middleware industry representatives
• Ground and aircraft sensor manufacturers
• Communication/navigation/surveillance service and equipment providers
• Test range operators and other entities that could provide a test range for GC-1 or future challenges in the Grand Challenge Series
• Ground station system and vehicle command and control developers
• Ground infrastructure (e.g., UAM port) developers and operators
• Other organizations that can make significant contributions toward the GC goals. Organizations could include: local and state governments, universities, Smart City planners, etc.
• Additional UAM stakeholders
Sub-component suppliers for vehicle and airspace capabilities are encouraged to respond to this RFI; however, they will likely need to partner with a vehicle or airspace system provider to participate in the Grand Challenge.
Foreign respondents electing to participate in the Grand Challenge will be subject to additional requirements. These are requirements initiated outside of NASA and include, but are not limited to, the Wolf Amendment (Public Law 112-55, SEC. 539) and personnel access requirements to facilities not owned by NASA. There are no restrictions on foreign companies responding to this RFI, but NASA’s subsequent interactions with foreign companies submitting responses could be limited by the above requirements.

Solicitation Number: 18AFRC19S0001

Deadline: 16 November 2018

Agency: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

For more information


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