NASA Simulation Facilities Collaborate to Improve Air Travel
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Aug. 11, 2004
How do you test new air traffic control technologies without shutting down some of the nation's busiest airports? You do it 'virtually.'
NASA Ames Research Center, in California's Silicon Valley, recently completed an initial series of simulations for its new Virtual Airspace Simulation Technology Real-Time (VAST-RT) capabilities. This was the first of many verification and validation simulations planned to significantly extend the scope and applicability of NASA's simulation facilities, to evaluate the complex constraints of the National Airspace System. The simulation technology is being developed to help meet NASA's Airspace Systems Program and aeronautics mission goals.
"With air travel expected to at least double in the next 20 years, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) are developing new concepts and technologies that will enable this expansion without a significant increase in delays or hassles for the traveler," said Harry Swenson, manager of NASA's Virtual Airspace Modeling and Simulation Project.
"The VAST-RT simulation capability represents a significant increase in the state of the art for airspace simulations. It allows the coupling of multiple aircraft, airspace and air traffic control simulators to research the system-wide effect of these new concepts and technologies. This will provide a thorough understanding of the benefits and the ability to explore potential limitations of these conceptual and technological solutions in a safe, realistic and efficient environment," Swenson explained.
The two-day simulation used operations at both Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago's O'Hare international airports - including the airspace between them - to test the new VAST-RT technology. Future simulations will extend the capability well beyond this scenario to evaluate system-wide effects that can ripple from the operations at these major airports.
During the tests, researchers were able to verify the connectivity of four simulation facilities at Ames using a technology originally developed by the military and customized for air traffic control simulations. The tests included the use of an advanced flight simulator, an airport control tower simulator, a laboratory that simulates air traffic control functions outside an airport, and other capabilities to represent all parts of airspace operations.
"This new real-time capability is critical to the assessment of advanced automation concepts and procedures being considered for the next-generation air traffic management system," said Debbi Ballinger, VAST-RT project manager. "VAST-RT simulation technology is an important tool in NASA's mission to improve the efficiency of the National Airspace System."
At Ames, pilots and controllers conducted simulated flight operations to and from O'Hare and Dallas/Fort Worth airports, including overflights that intersected this airspace en route to other destinations. Tower, terminal radar approach control, sector and center air traffic control operations were simulated.
"The VAST-RT technology gives us the realism required to conduct human factors assessments in an operationally relevant environment," said Sandy Lozito, a NASA researcher who specializes in air traffic management. "The technology provides an opportunity to address research questions pertaining to the changing roles of the human operators when considering new tools and procedures," she ventured.
"Human-in-the-loop simulation will be required before new concepts and technologies can be deployed in the field, and the VAST-RT technology will provide a cost-effective and safe way to perform these studies on large segments of the air traffic control system," said Ballinger.
NASA is working with the FAA to revolutionize air traffic management for the National Airspace System.
For more information about VAST-RT on the Internet, visit:
For more information about NASA research in aeronautics, visit:
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