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NASA UTM 2020: What's Next?
Stay tuned for the exciting future that lies ahead for UTM

NASA UTM 2019: Completion of Technical Capability Level 4
TCL 4 successfully concluded in August 2019, with flight tests at two different locations, and 35 participating organizations
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NASA UTM 2018: Completion of Technical Capability Level 3
TCL 3 was completed in March 2018, with approximately 40 participating organizations. Agreements were formalized with the FAA
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NASA UTM 2017: National Campaign
The highly successful National Campaign was executed between May and June at six test sites
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NASA UTM 2016: Technical Capability Levels 1 and 2
In 2016, UTM moved into high gear with the completion of two demonstrations, TCL 1 and TCL 2.
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NASA UTM 2015: The Next Era of Aviation
The NASA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) Convention was held July 28-30.
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This image shows applications for small UAV, including agriculture, surveillance, photo, search and rescue, and cargo delivery.
NASA'S concept of a UTM system, managing various commercial and public safety missions

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM)
Enabling Civilian Low-altitude Airspace and Unmanned Aircraft System Operations

June 2020: UTM Awarded 2020 NASA Government Invention of the Year
A NASA patent for traffic management of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) vehicles was awarded the 2020 Government Invention of the Year. This technology, called "Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) to Enable Civilian Low Altitude Goods and Service Delivery by UAS,” allows UAS to maintain safe and efficient operations for goods and services delivery. The invention transforms traditional, human-centric air traffic management into a modern, machine-centric, federated approach. In traditional air traffic management, a centralized authority provides services to keep the airspace safe and accessible. In UTM, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) delegates some of that authority to other entities to provide similar services to directly support the operators. In addition, those operators may receive services from different service suppliers. These additional services may include low-altitude weather information, congestion management, terrain avoidance, route planning, re-rerouting, separation management, and contingency management. This novel ecosystem requires a federation of services that are interconnected and communicating via well-defined interfaces and protocols.

What is the problem?
Many beneficial civilian applications of the UAS have been proposed, from goods delivery and infrastructure surveillance, to search and rescue, and agricultural monitoring. Currently, there is no established infrastructure to enable and safely manage the widespread use of low-altitude airspace and UAS operations, regardless of the type of UAS. A UAS traffic management (UTM) system for low-altitude airspace is necessary and can perhaps leverage concepts from the system of roads, lanes, stop signs, rules and lights that govern vehicles on the ground today, whether the vehicles are driven by humans or are automated.

What system technologies is NASA exploring?
Building on its legacy of work in air traffic management for crewed aircraft, NASA is researching and developing a prototype UTM system that would provide airspace integration requirements for enabling safe, efficient low-altitude operations.

While incorporating lessons learned from the today's well-established Air Traffic Management (ATM) system, which was a response that grew out of a mid-air collision over the Grand Canyon in the early days of commercial aviation, the UTM system would enable automated safe and efficient low-altitude airspace operations by providing services such as airspace design, corridors, dynamic geofencing, severe weather and wind avoidance, congestion management, terrain avoidance, route planning and re-routing, separation management, sequencing and spacing, and contingency management.

One of the main attributes of the UTM system is that it would not require human operators to monitor every vehicle continuously, as in the traditional ATM system. The system provides to human managers the data necessary to make strategic decisions related to initiation, continuation, and termination of airspace operations. This approach would ensure that only authenticated UAS could operate in the airspace. In its most mature form, the UTM system could be developed using autonomicity characteristics that include self-configuration, self-optimization and self-protection. The self-configuration aspect could determine whether the operations should continue given the current and/or predicted wind/weather conditions.

What is NASA doing to test the technologies?
NASA's near-term goal is the research, development and demonstration of a prototype UTM system that would safely enable low-altitude airspace and UAS operations. Working alongside many committed government, industry and academic partners, NASA is leading the research, development and testing in a series of activities called "Technical Capability Levels (TCL)", each increasing in complexity.

UTM TCL1 concluded field testing in August 2015, and is undergoing additional testing at an FAA site. Technologies in this activity addressed operations for agriculture, firefighting and infrastructure monitoring, with a focus on geofencing, altitude "rules of the road" and scheduling of vehicle trajectories.

UTM TCL2, completed in October 2016, leveraged TCL1 results and focused on beyond visual line-of-sight operations in sparsely populated areas. Researchers tested technologies that allowed dynamic adjustments to availability of airspace and contingency management.

UTM TCL3, completed in May 2018, and leveraged TCL2 results with focus on testing technologies that maintain safe spacing between cooperative (responsive) and non-cooperative (non-responsive) UAS over moderately populated areas. TCL3 flight tests were performed at six different locations across the country.

UTM TCL4, concluded in August 2019, with flight tests completed at Reno, Nevada, in June, 2019, and at Corpus Christi, Texas, in August, 2019. These leveraged TCL3 results focused on UAS operations in higher-density urban areas for tasks such as news gathering and package delivery. These activities also tested technologies that could be used to manage large-scale contingencies.

Over the past five years, NASA led UTM's research, development and testing in collaboration with the FAA and over one hundred plus industry, academia, and public agency partners. Results of this research, in the form of airspace integration requirements, have been incrementally transferred to the FAA with final transfer in 2020 for their further implementation.

Learn more about the FAA's UTM implementation plan

This graphic shows a complex scenario of various unmanned aircraft systems.

Some of the Technologies and Concepts tested in UTM Research and Development

BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight); C2 (Command and Control); DSRC (Dedicated Short-range Communications; FIMS (Flight Information Management System); Remote ID (Remote Identification); USS (UAS Service Supplier)

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Last Updated: January 10, 2021