NASA is now actively seeking companies to join its Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Grand Challenge — a series of demonstrations that aims to lay the groundwork for the large-scale deployment of urban air taxis.
In a solicitation posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website on Oct. 10, NASA calls for flight and airspace participants for its Grand Challenge Development Test (GC-DT) next year. This preliminary testing will provide “risk reduction” for the first Grand Challenge demonstration (GC-1), currently scheduled for 2022.
GC-DT will include UAM flight activities to explore and refine the proposed GC-1 flight scenarios; verify the suitability of a UAM test range at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California; evaluate participant vehicle and airspace readiness; and benchmark vehicle noise.
GC-DT will also include airspace development activities through “robust airspace simulations” with participating airspace service providers. Airspace participants will have the option of including live flight data as part of their demonstration if they are able to provide and integrate a certified aircraft, such as a helicopter, into the simulation activities.
GC-DT is open only to U.S. domestic UAM vehicle companies and airspace service providers. Proposals for the former are due by Nov. 22, and for the latter by Nov. 30, with selection expected to be complete by the end of this year.
However, NASA is also seeking to participate in an information exchange with both U.S. and international companies that would like to take part in GC-1. Proposals for the information exchange are due by Nov. 30, 2020, and are open to domestic as well as foreign companies with the exception of China or Chinese-owned entities.
NASA describes the Grand Challenge series as an effort to “‘raise the water level’ for the entire UAM community through a holistic, operational testing approach.” The goal is to develop and validate a common concept of operations (CONOPS) for UAM, encompassing flight procedures; future airspace operations management architectures; communication, navigation, and surveillance (CNS) architectures; takeoff and landing infrastructure requirements; and other items.
“The sooner a common CONOPS can be developed, the sooner requirements can be set for industry to begin maturing technologies and fielding systems that have a high degree of certainty to provide a return on the organizations’ investment and enable safe, high-volume UAM operations,” NASA’s solicitation states. “The GC series is designed to allow for integrated testing of the different areas required for a common CONOPS so that the UAM community can move forward towards commercial operations.”
As part of the solicitation, NASA has shared seven scenarios currently proposed for the Grand Challenge series. Developed with the assistance of the Federal Aviation Administration, they are “designed to represent real-world UAM operations and address barriers for aircraft certification, operational safety, and community acceptance.” These include trajectory planning and compliance, aircraft and airspace operations management interoperability, UAM ports and approaches, noise evaluation and response, CNS contingencies, air-to-air conflict management, and constrained conflict management.
“The scenarios are designed to progress in difficulty and complexity through the GC series, likely requiring higher levels of vehicle and airspace system automation and/or autonomy to complete increasingly more complex integrated scenarios,” the solicitation states. “It is expected that these test scenarios will evolve and be refined over time, and additional scenarios added as the GC series progresses.”