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NASA Releases Newest Vision for Flight Research

An artistic representation of Earth showing North and South America surrounded by aviation-themed graphic icons that symbolize the six strategic research thrusts of NASA’s aeronautics investigations.
This image from the cover of the Strategic Implementation Plan represents NASA’s vision for aeronautics research for the next 25 years and beyond. The plan encompasses investigating a broad range of technologies to meet future needs of the aviation community, the nation, and the world for safe, efficient, adaptable, and environmentally sustainable air transportation.
NASA / Lillian Gipson

NASA has released the newest iteration of its vision for aeronautics research activities, and it includes exciting, cutting-edge sustainable aviation updates.

The Strategic Implementation Plan lays out the research strategy for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) for the next 20 years and beyond. It presents the rationale and architecture through which NASA will continue to lead the future of research into all aspects of flight.

This 2023 version of the plan includes new perspectives on how NASA’s work addresses key drivers of the aeronautics industry. It maintains the organization of ARMD’s research plan into “strategic thrusts” that have the potential to make cross-cutting, transformational contributions to the future of flight.

“To implement this plan, our research portfolio remains organized around six strategic research thrusts,” said Robert Pearce, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “They detail our vision for future air transportation systems that are safe and sustainable, increase personal mobility, and enhance U.S. economic well-being.

These strategic thrusts envision a future for our skies that is cleaner, quieter, safer, and more efficient. NASA will enable these outcomes by leading in areas such as ultra-efficient airliners, high-speed commercial flight, Advanced Air Mobility, future airspace and safety – among others.

The six strategic thrusts are:

  1. Safe, Efficient Growth in Global Operations
  2. Innovation in Commercial High-Speed Aircraft
  3. Ultra-Efficient Subsonic Transport
  4. Safe, Quiet, and Affordable Vertical Lift Air Vehicles
  5. In-Time System-Wide Safety Assurance
  6. Assured Autonomy for Aviation Transformation

One major update to the Strategic Implementation Plan is the inclusion of NASA’s commitments to sustainable aviation. Since the last version of the document was released in 2019, NASA has established the Sustainable Flight National Partnership – an engagement with industry, academia, and government to accomplish the U.S. goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“NASA’s research and development of revolutionary aircraft and propulsion technology is the energy efficiency cornerstone of the U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan,” said Rich Wahls, ARMD’s mission integration manager for its Sustainable Flight National Partnership. “Working together with industry on projects such as the X-66 Sustainable Flight Demonstrator, we will make critical contributions enabling aviation to accelerate towards the U.S. goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

Sustainable aviation is only one aspect of NASA’s flight research. Other areas include leveraging new and nontraditional technologies and approaches including electric or hybrid propulsion, low-boom supersonic flight, automation and autonomy, and technology convergence to develop transformative solutions.

The ultimate, overarching goal is providing safe, affordable, and convenient air travel to the public.

“It is an exciting time to be writing the next chapter of aeronautics as public policy, technology, and the business sector converge for the benefit of all,” said Naseem Saiyed, ARMD’s deputy director for strategy. “This does not happen often, but when it does, the benefits to society are immense.”