Increasing Safe, Secure, Efficient Mobility through Air in Skies of 2035 and Beyond
Experts predict the skies of 2035 and beyond will be a complex and, at times, crowded space, populated with diverse vehicles piloted by both humans and machine intelligence. The estimates are that, twenty years from now, 10 million manned and unmanned vehicles may traverse the U.S. airspace every day. Our current system is not equipped to handle this volume or variety of aircraft.
To overcome the limitations of the current system and ensure safe access for all travelers and users of airspace, the Ab Initio Design (AbI) element of the NASA Safe Autonomous Operations Systems (SASO) Project is researching a new airspace design and concept of operations that will allow the air vehicles of 2035, including autonomous vehicles, to safely and efficiently participate in dense and diverse traffic. Clean-slate airspace architecture and operations, not constrained in the current system, are the overarching “Big Picture” target. Given the great complexity and scale of the of the overall objective, NASA is reaching out to the problem-solving community, asking innovators to cast aside the restraints of the current transportation model and develop component concepts and technologies that will enable the transition from the present system to the airspace of the future.
The U.S. airspace system evolved over time in response to accidents and changing technology. Current operations support approximately 50,000 operations per day and boast the highest safety record of any mode of transportation, but this system has approached saturation and will not scale to accommodate future needs. Our goal is to build an airspace system that scales to 10 million vehicles per day (including personal air vehicles, passenger jets, unmanned vehicles of various sizes and speeds, stationary objects, space vehicles, etc.) by the year 2035.
To achieve this, a breakthrough in airspace system design and concept of operations is urgently needed as new vehicles -- such as drones of various sizes operating at different altitudes, commercial space launches, wind turbines in jet streams -- are already being introduced into the airspace. Architectural constraints of the current system may not allow it to accommodate the complex air traffic of 2035 and beyond. Thus NASA is looking for creative, clean-slate design constructs, or enabling component technologies and concepts, that will inform the design of real-world future air transportation.
We want airspace that can scale to full capacity under normal conditions and scale back to equally safe, reduced capacity under degraded conditions. Moreover, this adaptation has to happen autonomously. In addition, the airspace participants need self-protection from cyber-security attacks. Innovators who participate in this challenge will be asked to disregard current transportation infrastructure and constraints and use a clean-slate approach to conceptualize their designs, concepts of operations, and component technologies.
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