NASA’s UAM Grand Challenge Kicks It in Gear

Some of the elements involved in NASA’s Grand Challenge.  Credit: NASA

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has signed Space Act Agreements with 17 aviation companies  to move forward in a series of technology demonstrations known as the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Grand Challenge. 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.

In the future, UAM could encompass 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.

This year will see several developmental testing activities to lay the groundwork for the first Grand Challenge, scheduled for 2022.

“We consider this work as a risk reduction step toward Grand Challenge 1,” said Starr Ginn, NASA’s Grand Challenge lead. “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.

So far, 17 companies have signed Space Act Agreements with NASA to participate in the developmental testing.

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

Developmental Flight Testing: provide a vehicle to fly in the test and demonstrate key integrated operational UAM scenarios as designed by NASA’s UAM Grand Challenge team.

Developmental Airspace Simulation: test their UAM traffic management services in robust NASA-designed airspace simulations and demonstrate key integrated operational UAM scenarios.

Vehicle Provider Information Exchange: an exchange of information to prepare for possible flight activities during the first Grand Challenge at a NASA-provided or other approved test range in 2022.

These industry partners have signed five-year agreements with NASA. They are listed by category of the area they will participate.

Developmental Flight Testing

  • Joby Aviation of Santa Cruz, California

Developmental Airspace Simulation

  • AirMap, Inc., of Santa Monica, California
  • AiRXOS, Part of GE Aviation, of Boston, Massachusetts
  • ANRA Technologies, Inc., of Chantilly, Virginia
  • ARINC Inc., of Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Avision, Inc., of Santa Monica, California
  • Ellis & Associates, Los Angeles, CA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lacuna Technologies, Palo Alto, CA
  • GeoRq LLC of Holladay, Utah
  • Metron Aviation, Inc., of Herndon, Virginia
  • OneSky Systems Inc., of Exton, Pennsylvania
  • Uber Technologies, Inc., of San Francisco, California
  • The University of North Texas of Denton, Texas

Vehicle Provider Information Exchange

  • Bell Textron of Ft. Worth, Texas
  • The Boeing Company of Chantilly, Virginia
  • NFT Inc., of Mountain View, California
  • Prodentity, LLC of Corrales, New Mexico
  • Zeva Inc., of Spanaway, Washington