In 2015, NASA began research on technology, performance requirements, and procedures to enable civil UAS operations in low altitude airspace. A Research Transition Team (RTT) was established to coordinate the NASA and FAA efforts for exploring a new paradigm in air traffic management that will integrate the anticipated new volume of small UAS operations into the NAS without overtaxing the current ATM system.
NASA’s research concept specifically addressed small UAS Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations below 400 feet in airspace that contains low-density manned aircraft operations. NASA developed a phased approach for its UTM development and testing, building from rural to urban environments and from low- to high-density airspaces. This progression of Technical Capability Levels (TCL) brought in industry partners to assure the concept would enable their business cases and spur innovative solutions. The TCLs ranged from low-risk Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) operations to complex operations in high-density urban environments (visual representation available here).
The testing culminated in demonstrations in downtown Reno, NV, and Corpus Cristi, TX, in 2019. Results from the TCLs have been published and technology transfers to the FAA of the UTM system concept, designs, and software concluded in 2020. The UTM demonstrations showed that a highly automated, federated, service-based architecture is feasible for safely managing future small UAS traffic demands. The UTM concept has been further tested by the FAA with NASA collaboration in the UTM Pilot Program Phases 1 and 2.
The UTM concept became a starting point for researching traffic management for other vehicle types and airspace domains such as Urban Air Mobility (UAM) and High Class E airspace under either BVLOS or VLOS conditions. Whereas the UTM project is sunsetting in mid-2021, NASA will continue to coordinate with the FAA and UAS community to advance the UAS Traffic Management ecosystem.