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Airspace Systems: NextGen-Airspace Banner


ABOUT US
The NextGen-Airspace Project develops and explores fundamental concepts and integrated solutions that address the optimal allocation of ground and air automation technologies necessary for the Next Generation Air Transportation System, or NextGen.

NASA researchers' technical expertise and world-class facilities are focused on addressing the questions of where, when, how and to what extent automation can be applied to moving aircraft safely and efficiently through the National Airspace System.

NextGen-Airspace follows a four-level approach to planning and conducting research:
  1. Conduct foundational research to further our fundamental understanding of the underlying physics (which includes computer science, software engineering, automation design, etc) and our ability to model that physics;
  2. Leverage the foundational research to develop technologies and computational tools focused on discipline-based solutions;
  3. Integrate those tools and technologies to develop multi-disciplinary solutions; and
  4. Address the system-level challenges with system-level optimization, assessment, and technology integration.


Why Conduct Research to Transform Our Airspace?
As a cornerstone of the U.S. economy, aviation is a key catalyst for economic growth and has a profound influence on our quality of life. Analysis completed in 2001 of even a conservative growth estimate showed a significant lack of existing and planned capacity in our national airspace. The economic relationship between growth in the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and air travel requires the nation to invest in this critical infrastructure if the choice is against stagnating as a major world economy.

In 2002, the Commission on the Future of Aerospace in the United States recommended the transformation of the U.S. air transportation system as a national priority. Shortly following this recommendation, the 108th Congress (2003-2004) and the president passed and signed into law the Vision 100 – Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act, which led to the formation of the Interagency Joint Planning and Development Office (JPDO).

The JPDO is charged with developing the vision for the 2025 Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen), as well as the research required to achieve that vision. According to the JPDO's "Concept of Operations, Version 2.0" the NextGen is founded on an underlying set of principles and enabled by a series of key capabilities that will free the U.S. of many current system constraints, support a wider range of operations, and deliver an overall system capacity up to three times current operating levels. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry currently forecast that air traffic operations are expected to increase 150 to 250 percent over the next two decades. According to the FAA’s Capacity Needs in the National Airspace System, 2007-2025" from May 2007, capacity needs in the 2025 long-term planning period were estimated assuming: (1) that the planned improvements will be completed by 2025, and (2) the demand will continue to grow with no capacity improvements added to the existing system.

Specific technical goals for the NextGen-Airspace project in this context include:

  • Increase capacity through dynamic allocation of airspace structure and controller resources.
  • Effectively allocate demand through departure time management, route modification, adaptive speed control, etc., in the presence of uncertainty.
  • Increase capacity through higher levels of automation for separation management, scheduling sequencing, merging, and spacing.
  • Develop accurate trajectory predictions that are interoperable with aircraft flight management systems and account for prediction uncertainty growth and propagation.
  • Quantify the performance-enhancing effects of emerging airborne technologies.
  • Show system level performance of all NASA technologies.
  • Develop computer modeling and analysis tools capable of evaluating the systematic impact of NextGen research.
+ NextGen-Airspace Project Figure



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Editor: Tamara Croom
NASA Official: Tony Springer
Last Updated: January 23, 2009
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