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The goal of the challenge is to test the capabilities and readiness of vehicles and systems that could revolutionize mobility in and around densely populated metropolitan areas. When fully implemented, says the agency, UAM will provide a safe and efficient system for passenger and cargo air transportation and could include such innovations as small package delivery within dense urban areas, personal taxi service by air, air medical services such as patient ambulance transportation, and cargo delivery to underserviced communities.

The NASA-led Grand Challenge series will bring together companies intending to develop and/or operate air vehicles or airspace management services within the larger UAM ecosystem.

“With this step,” says Robert Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics, “we’re continuing to put the pieces together that we hope will soon make real the long-anticipated vision of smaller piloted and unpiloted vehicles providing a variety of services around cities and in rural areas.”

In addition to bringing together companies involved in emerging air transportation systems, says the agency, the challenge will help ensure public safety by informing requirements for UAM operations and formalizing best practices to enable the development of regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“Our partnership with the FAA will be a key factor in the successful and safe outcomes for industry that we can expect from conducting these series of Grand Challenges during the coming years,” says Pearce.

The first Grand Challenge is targeted for 2022, with several developmental testing activities planned for this year. The first step involves activities – known as the Grand Challenge Developmental Testing (GC-DT) – that will lay the groundwork for the first challenge.

Starr Ginn, NASA’s Grand Challenge lead says, “We consider this work as a risk reduction step toward Grand Challenge 1. It is designed to allow U.S. developed aircraft and airspace management service providers to essentially try out their systems with real-world operations in simulated environments that we also will be flight testing to gain experience.”

The goal of the developmental test is to assess the readiness of NASA’s test infrastructure while integrating a mobile operating facility and NASA airspace services. The test will verify relevant flight test scenarios, assist in data collection, and assess readiness.

Selected industry partners provided accepted proposals in one of three categories:

  • Developmental Flight Testing: Industry partners will provide a vehicle to fly in the GC-DT and demonstrate key integrated operational UAM scenarios as designed by NASA’s UAM Grand Challenge team.
  • Developmental Airspace Simulation: Industry partners will test its UAM traffic management services in robust NASA-designed airspace simulations in the GC-DT and demonstrate key integrated operational UAM scenarios.
  • Vehicle Provider Information Exchange: Industry partners and NASA will exchange information with the intent to prepare that partner for possible flight activities during the first Grand Challenge at a NASA-provided or other approved test range in 2022.

The UAM Grand Challenge is managed by the NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility project, a new project office established in the agency’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate to coordinate all of NASA’s UAM-related activity as part of its focus to enable emerging aviation markets.

NASA UAM Grand Challenge

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