Modernization of the National Airspace System (NAS) will involve future air traffic management (ATM) concepts of operation and technology frameworks that rely on the automated exchange of information between aircraft, and between aircraft and ground-based air traffic control systems. In-flight validation is critical to the acceptance and ultimate implementation of these concepts, so an approach and enabling infrastructure are needed to reduce the costs of flight tests. The approach and infrastructure must also support refinement and validation of interoperability standards for enabling communications and surveillance technologies. The innovation described here is a concept to develop an in-situ test environment for advanced ATM concepts by leveraging existing computing and network infrastructure and existing simulations of future surveillance equipage.
The Networked Air Traffic Infrastructure Validation Environment (NATIVE) would provide a high-bandwidth air/ground communications infrastructure that uses simulations of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and other data link surveillance concepts rather than employing actual flight hardware in the tests. NATIVE could be provided and maintained by NASA or another government agency as a national asset. It would provide equipage and software that emulates the functions of an end-state system that relies on current and potential future surveillance and communications functionality. It may also enable exploration of network concepts such as cloud computing applied to ATM.
To determine requirements, six NATIVE design configurations were developed for two NASA Concepts of Operation (ConOps) that rely on ADS-B. The performance characteristics of three existing in-flight Internet services were investigated to determine whether performance is adequate to support the concept. Next, a study of requisite hardware and software was conducted to examine whether and how the NATIVE concept might be realized.
NATIVE hardware includes laptop or tablet computers installed on participating aircraft, ground-based computers with Internet access, and an in-flight Internet system. The airborne hardware would host displays and user input capabilities that support the ConOps under evaluation, and would be operated by the pilot or the flight test engineer. This equipment provides connectivity to the airborne Internet data link, and hosts advanced ConOps algorithms, the associated aircraft data interfaces, and special processing functions as needed. An Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) may be used as the host platform. The information will only be received from aircraft systems; for safety and security reasons, providing data from the advanced technology back to the certified aircraft systems is not envisioned. In-flight Internet transmits and receives emulated aircraft surveillance and communication data between all participating aircraft and the NATIVE ground system. The ground system aggregates and processes traffic and weather information and, in some cases, hosts the advanced ATM technologies. The ground system then provides all traffic and other situational awareness information to all participating test aircraft.
NATIVE software components include data link reception and broadcast simulations, and software that amalgamates traffic and weather data from the participating aircraft and any other sources required for a given test. The NATIVE hardware may also host the advanced ConOps algorithms and any associated operator interfaces for both flight deck and ground-based applications. If needed, virtual traffic generators, traffic filtering, and data fusion algorithms can also be hosted by the NATIVE system.
Airlines, application developers, and research organizations can develop test platforms for use with NATIVE to validate new ConOps and generate data that can be used to estimate their benefits with high accuracy, without incurring expensive avionics costs, and without the limitations of currently available equipment.