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The Airspace Operations Lab (AOL) plays a vital role in NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) research. Within NASA's UTM team, the AOL is responsible for the simulation and human/systems integration research focus areas. The AOL UTM team is collaborating with industry leaders, academia, and government groups to develop requirements to safely and efficiently integrate low-altitude UAS operations into the National Airspace (NAS). For additional information on UTM, please visit the Ames UTM website at https://utm.arc.nasa.gov/index.shtml.

Both of the UTM-TCL4 technical reports have been released and can be seen by clicking the following links.

- TCL4 UTM (UAS Traffic Management) Texas 2019 Flight Tests, Airspace Operations Laboratory (AOL) Report
- TCL4 UTM (UAS Traffic Management) Nevada 2019 Flight Tests, Airspace Operations Laboratory (AOL) Report

The following paper by members of the Airspace Operations Lab was awarded Best Paper of Track, Session, and Conference at the 39th Digital Avionics Systems Conference.

- Wolter, C., Martin, L., & Jobe, K., 2020, Human-system interaction issues and proposed solutions to successful maturation of the UTM system, Proceedings of the 39th Digital Avionics Systems Conference (DASC). October 13-16, 2020, San Antonio, TX

Researchers in NASA Ames' Airspace Operations Laboratory (AOL) performing traffic management research for the Unmanned Airspace Systems (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) Project.
A typical day in the AOL during the UTM Technical Capability Level 3 (TCL3) demonstration

Image of the AOL UTM research facilities
AOL UTM research facility

Long before stories of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly known as "drones," were frequent in the news, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recognized the need for a way to safely manage UAS flying at low altitudes in airspace not currently managed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Today, with innovators constantly identifying new, beneficial applications for UAS - goods delivery, infrastructure inspection, search and rescue, agricultural monitoring - a set of robust procedures and increasingly automated services are required, that provide an effective and efficient operational environment for UAS, maintain an adequate level of safety for the flying and non-flying public, and do not require a high degree of human oversight or interaction.

Building on its legacy of work in air traffic management for crewed aircraft, NASA is researching prototype technologies such as airspace design, dynamic geofencing, congestion management and terrain avoidance for a UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system that could enable safe, efficient low-altitude operations.

A crew prepares a vehicle for flight in during UTM system testing in May 2017
A crew prepares a vehicle for flight in during UTM system testing in May 2018

A New York test site pilot launches his drone on another planned maneuver.
A New York test site pilot launches his drone on another planned maneuver. Credits: NUAIR Alliance / Eric Miller

UAS Traffic Management (UTM) display showing operation volumes
UAS Traffic Management (UTM) display showing operation volumes

For more than 25 years, NASA AOL has conducted air traffic management system research, often collaborating with the FAA, providing a variety of computer-based tools that help improve flight efficiency, reduce delays, and reduce fuel use and emissions all while maintaining safety in increasingly crowded skies.

NASA's Ames Research Center, with 
its extensive experience in autonomous systems and air
 traffic management, is leading the UTM research in close collaboration with NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center, NASA's Glenn Research Center and NASA's Langley Research Center. Ames has a history of conducting research in autonomy-related topics, and is experienced at developing systems that can adapt their behavior to environments that are complex, rapidly changing and incompletely understood.

A crew in Alaska flying multiple ops during May 2017 testing
A crew in Alaska flying multiple ops during May 2018 testing

A crewmember from North Dakota preparing to launch a vehicle during May 2017 testing
A crewmember from North Dakota preparing to launch a vehicle during May 2018 testing

Points of Contact: Jeffrey Homola, M.S., Human Systems Integration Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Joey Mercer, M.S., Human Systems Integration Division, NASA Ames Research Center
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Curator: Phil So
NASA Official: Joey Mercer
Last Updated: February 16, 2021