NASA seeks industry partners for its UAM Airspace Integration Research and Development project

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has conducted research on a multitude of Air Traffic Management (ATM) areas over the past several decades. The concepts, technologies, and procedures developed through these efforts have meaningfully benefited the flying public and the aviation community in the form of more efficient and predictable operations. Many of these tools and methods were developed for traditional fixed-wing aircraft and passenger-transportation operations. They include technologies for flight planning, scheduling, sequencing, and spacing to a constrained resource such as an airport, dynamic re-routing around weather, traffic flow management, and disruption management.

Recently, NASA has increased its focus on developing technologies and standards for new types of aircraft and missions being pursued by the broader aviation community, such as small unmanned aircraft systems conducting package delivery. NASA’s ATM-X project is working towards integrating new, diverse entrants into the National Airspace System (NAS), while also leveraging NASA’s prior achievements in ATM that continue to improve traditional airspace operations. This includes ATM-X’s Initial Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Operations Integration sub-project, which is conducting research on the airspace integration concepts, technologies, and procedures needed to conduct UAM operations safely and efficiently alongside other airspace users.

UAM-defined as safe and efficient air traffic operations into, out of, and within a metropolitan area by manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems-is being researched and developed by industry, academia, and government. The NASA ATM-X UAM sub-project is focused on the airspace integration aspect of UAM both to enable early entrants in the airspace and also to identify, develop, and evaluate the services, procedures, and tools necessary to support high-tempo, high-demand mature UAM operations. UAM operations will leverage and build on an Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) construct and which includes use of manage by exception paradigm as much as possible, cooperative operations, and application protocol interfaces for a service oriented architecture. Research activities could involve fast-time simulations and/or real-time simulations, the latter of which could include Human in the Loop (HITL) simulations.

The research area for this UAM RFI is intended to address a broad range of collaborative research, development, testing and technology transfer activities and is a separate activity that will move in parallel to NASA’s UAM Grand Challenge to further the maturity of airspace operations to enable highly scaled UAM operations. The product of this collaboration will be requirements to enable high density, safe airspace operations.

The development of an ecosystem for UAM requires input from and collaboration between a wide range of groups. This includes manufacturers of electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, manufacturers of avionics and other equipment, builders of takeoff and landing areas, and researchers of the airspace integration concepts, technologies, and procedures needed to conduct UAM operations safely and efficiently alongside other airspace users.

NASA has embraced an agile “Build, Explore, and Learn” collaborative approach for UAM airspace integration and will engage with partners and stakeholders to determine how to work together on research and development activities related to UAM airspace integration. The primary objective sought through this RFI is to evaluate and document the tradeoffs across the wide range of possibilities for UAM airspace integration through coordinated and collaborative research activities in a way that the UAM community at large can use to determine operational performance requirements for UAM vehicles and systems.

To address these airspace integration challenges, the UAM sub-project will undertake the following activities:

  • Engineering evaluations of UAM operations in a service-oriented architecture and paradigm (2019)
    • Engineering evaluations of a UTM construct for UAM including but not limited to cooperative, intent sharing, operator to operator data exchanges using application protocol interfaces, in a service oriented architecture where many services could be offered by third parties (2019)
    • Exploratory research, analysis, and prototype development of new services, tools, and procedures for UAM operations, as well as the adaptation of technologies previously developed for other air traffic operations, such as commercial aviation (2019-2020)
    • Engineering evaluations of higher-complexity UAM operations in a service-oriented architecture and paradigm (2020)
    • Further development and testing of concepts, architectures, technologies, and procedures for high-complexity UAM operations (2021-2026)

NASA is seeking information and collaboration interest regarding the above plans. Interested parties from the UAM community, traditional aviation community, and other areas of the aviation community and related sectors are encouraged to respond. The benefit to the community includes the ability to test and evaluate UAM concepts, algorithms, and procedures in realistic and relevant simulation environments towards integration in the NAS.
Interested parties could include but are not limited to: operators and manufacturers of aircraft; avionics and equipment manufacturers; software vendors; systems integrators; academic and other research organizations; airport operators; flight service providers; and federal, state, and local government agencies.

Through the ATM-X UAM sub-project, NASA seeks a collaboration with the aviation community to define opportunities and concepts, technologies, and procedures that address a wide range of topics for UAM airspace integration.

Areas of potential collaboration with NASA include but are not limited to:
• Conducting evaluations, analyzing results, and finalizing reports of modeling and simulation activities;
• Architecture and concept development for UAM operations at different stages of maturity;
• Cybersecurity to assure safe and reliable exchange of data;
• Demand analysis for UAM operations and the implications for takeoff and landing areas (TOLAs) and design given existing terrain, infrastructure, regulations, land availability, and other factors
• Operating procedures (e.g., holding patterns near TOLAs, right-of-way rules, constraints on access to TOLAs based on vehicle classes) for diverse aircraft with a wide range of performance characteristics;
• Vehicle reference models and performance capabilities (including battery capacity and discharge models);
• Congestion management, which could include methods to manage the scheduling and routing of traffic flows through an airspace region and/or to limit the number of vehicles entering the airspace;
• Mission planning and/or fleet management of diverse aircraft with a wide range of performance characteristics;
• Scheduling to/from individual TOLAs and across a network of TOLAs;
• Separation management, which could include tactical departure management, en-route separation management, arrival management, and defining separation standards;
• “Maintain well clear” and collision avoidance algorithms;
• Surface management at TOLAs, including UAM vehicle recharging/refueling, movement to/from parking locations (if any), and passenger boarding/deboarding;
• Conformance monitoring for UAM operations in the air and at TOLAs;
• Disruption management and contingency response management for off-nominal situations;
• Interoperability:
o Standards for the data exchange architecture and communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS) services
o Protocols to ensure the integrity, timeliness, and consistent understanding of the information being exchanged by different vehicles and systems
o Methods and procedures for the vehicles and systems of UAM and other airspace users to operate in a compatible way with each other.

Requested contributions from partners for collaborations with NASA include but are not limited to;
Relevant air vehicle and fleet management services;
• Relevant air traffic management services;
• Weather forecast and real-time information as well as models to translate that data to vehicle impact;
• Relevant configuration and performance information for vehicles and systems to be considered in modeling and simulation;
• Relevant operational information, such as:
o Potential mission profiles that include aircraft speed, horizontal route, and altitude
o Procedures for approach and departure
o Procedures to access and exit controlled airspace
o Representative TOLA locations and relevant operational parameters
o Proposed operational tempo
o Restricted airspaces
• Models and/or performance information related to:
o Energy usage and re-fueling
o Auditory and visual noise in terms of annoyance perceived by the community on the ground
o Ride quality
o Lifecycle emissions
o Risk analysis (e.g., in terms of probability and severity such as casualties and property damage)
o Communications, navigation, surveillance, and cybersecurity technologies
• Relevant avionics and other equipment information, models, and/or hardware;
• Appropriate SMEs to collaborate with for modeling and simulation
Hardware and software components for these collaborations are expected to be connected through the NASA-developed Testbed simulation platform.

NASA’s proposed contributions to collaborations with the UAM and broader aviation community include:

  • Access to subject-matter experts (SMEs) and researchers involved with the development and evaluation of UAM concepts, technologies, and procedures;
    • Access to SMEs with relevant operational and testing expertise;
    • Access to relevant UAM software components, supported by appropriate software usage and licensing agreements (to be determined);
    • Access to relevant test environments, which could include:
    o Fast-time and real-time airspace simulation platforms, such as the NASA-developed Testbed
    o Flight deck simulators
    o Air traffic control tower simulators
    o CNS test lab
    • Access to relevant data from UAM research and development evaluations

The specific objective of this RFI is to solicit information regarding interest in a collaboration for the purpose outlines above and capabilities interested parties may be able to offer as part of such a collaboration. This information will be used to assist the Government in developing potential partnerships. Responses to this RFI should include the following information:

• Company Information: Company name and address, point-of-contact name, e-mail address, phone number. This information should identify all other partners that are part of the proposed team.
• Feasibility of a Collaboration: Type of arrangement and agreement with NASA desired by the organization and reason why. Particular considerations, circumstances, or issues that would need to be addressed in an agreement (e.g. the organization’s expectations regarding the allocation of intellectual property rights).
• Proposed Partner Contributions: Specific partner contributions in the areas listed in the partner contribution section above.
• Proposed NASA Contributions: Specific expertise and support that the partner needs from NASA.
• Operational Concept: Partner’s operational view with regard to the integration and use of NASA technologies.
• Implementation Time Frame: Time frame that the partner is able to provide support to the collaborative effort.

Responses are limited to no more than 5 pages and should be submitted via email listed below. The subject line of the submission should be “UAM Airspace Technology Investigation Collaboration” and attachments should be in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or PDF format. Files should not be greater than 8MB in size.

While it is not NASA’s intent to publicly disclose any proprietary information obtained from this Request, respondents should make best efforts to limit the inclusion of proprietary information in its response. Information expressly identified or marked by a respondent as “Proprietary or Confidential” will be kept confidential to the full extent possible pursuant to the Trade Secrets Act (18 U.S.C. § 1905), Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C 552 et seq.) and other applicable federal laws and regulations. It is emphasized that this Request is NOT to be construed as a commitment by the Government to enter into a contractual or other form of agreement, nor will the Government pay for information solicited. All activities contemplated in this Request are subject to the availability of funds in accordance with the Anti-Deficiency Act (31 U.S.C § 1341).

NASA will base its collaborative decisions in part on the relevancy of the responses provided to this Request and possible subsequent meetings and communications as requested by either NASA or the respondents. At its discretion, NASA may hold meetings with respondents as needed to clarify responses or obtain further details.

The information is requested for planning purposes only, subject to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Clause 52.215-3, entitled “Solicitation for Information for Planning Purposes.” This RFI is not a commitment by the Government nor will the Government pay for information solicited. This RFI may result in a Non-Reimbursable Space Act Agreement (National Aeronautics and Space Act (51 U.S.C. § 20113(e)) and NASA Policy Directive (NPD 1050.1)) or other collaborative agreement. The release of this RFI does not indicate that the government will issue a solicitation in this area nor does it obligate the government to invest any resources specific to the targeted technology area.

Relevant UTM concept of operations documents could be found at:

Response deadline: 10 December 2018

Responsible body: NASA

Contracting Office Address:

NASA/Ames Research Center, JA:M/S 241-1
Moffett Field, California 94035-1000 

Primary Point of Contact.:

David P. Thipphavong

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