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NASA announces first UAM Grand Challenge participants

NASA has announced agreements with 17 companies for the developmental testing phase of its Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Grand Challenge, a series of demonstrations that could lay the groundwork for widespread deployment of urban air taxis.

Joby S4 for NASA UAM Grand Challenge
Joby Aviation, maker of the S4 eVTOL, will be the sole developmental flight testing partner for the initial phase of NASA’s UAM Grand Challenge. Joby Photo

The companies selected for participation include Joby Aviation of Santa Cruz, California, which is the only eVTOL developer slated to fly a vehicle during the developmental testing phase.

Another five vehicle providers will be taking part in an information exchange with the intent of preparing them for flight activities during the first Grand Challenge demonstration in 2022. These include aerospace giants Bell and Boeing, as well as NFT of Mountain View, California; Prodentity of Corrales, New Mexico; and Zeva of Spanaway, Washington.

Meanwhile, 11 industry partners have been chosen to test UAM traffic management services in NASA-designed airspace simulations during the developmental testing phase. These are AirMap, AiRXOS, ANRA Technologies, ARINC, Avision, Ellis & Associates, GeoRq, Metron Aviation, OneSky Systems, Uber Technologies, and the University of North Texas.

“With this step, 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,” stated Robert Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics, in a press release.

The developmental testing phase of the UAM Grand Challenge will assess the readiness of NASA’s test infrastructure while integrating a mobile operating facility and NASA airspace services. NASA Image

According to NASA Grand Challenge lead Starr Ginn, the developmental testing phase will verify relevant flight scenarios, assist in data collection, and assess readiness — thus serving as a “risk reduction step” toward the first UAM Grand Challenge demonstration in 2022.

“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,” she explained.

Tom Prevot, director of engineering for airspace systems at Uber Elevate, said the company’s airspace simulations “will unlock when, where, and how we safely operate eVTOLs in an urban environment on the Uber platform. The NASA UAM Grand Challenge will allow us to put our airspace integration technologies to the test, which we are proud to do alongside our vehicle partners Bell Textron, Boeing, and the Grand Challenge’s sole developmental flight tester, Joby Aviation.”

Ultimately, the UAM Grand Challenge aims to inform requirements for UAM operations and help the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develop appropriate regulations for this emerging field. “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,” said NASA’s Pearce.

Although the deadline to participate in UAM Grand Challenge’s developmental testing phase has passed, NASA said it welcomes proposals from additional industry partners for the vehicle provider information exchange activity.

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