Italian Urban Air Mobility Technologies & Distributed Test-Facility

Last Updated: 20/02/2024 09:49     Created at: 20/02/2024 09:46

On Thursday, February 15th, 2024, ENAC presented together with its partners from Telespazio S.p.A. (TPZ), The Italian Aerospace Research Center, Distretto Tecnologico Aerospaziale, D-Flight, Planetek Italia, EXPRIVIA Spa and  Civitanavi Systems S.p.A. the results of the NAVISP EL3-018 project "UAM National Test Facility - AURORA". Over 50 people from industry and research institutes followed the interesting presentation and the subsequent interactive Q&A session.

The integration of drones into urban and extra-urban environments presents transformative opportunities across various sectors. However, ensuring safe and reliable navigation poses significant challenges, particularly in complex urban landscapes. While Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) serve as a foundational component for navigation in commercial drones, they face limitations in environments characterized by poor visibility and RF interference. Moreover, the absence of standardized technical protocols for Urban Air Mobility (UAM) necessitates a thorough investigation, especially concerning the specific national contexts.

The AURORA project aimed to define dedicated navigation performance standards tailored to national urban, suburban, and inter-city environments, facilitating the safe integration of UAM. Furthermore, ensuring the safety and security of urban manned and unmanned flight operations requires rigorous flight testing conducted in controlled airspace. The three key objectives were therefore: firstly, defining PNT requirements and designing a GNSS-based architecture for UAM; secondly, establishing a distributed testing infrastructure to serve as the Urban Air Mobility National Test Facility; and thirdly, investigating new PNT technologies for UAM applications, including conducting laboratory and in-flight demonstrations to prove their effectiveness.

Overall, the project was divided into two phases, with the first phase successfully completed in December 2023 and presented in this Webinar. In this first phase, system requirements and the preliminary architecture of the national Distributed PNT Test Facility for Advanced Air Mobility, along with the GNSS-based infrastructure, have been defined. Subsequently, various subsystems, including GNSS Performance Monitoring and Forecast, GNSS Augmentation and Integrity, GNSS RF Spectrum Monitoring, and Hybrid Navigation units, have been tested and customized. Based on these results, the first prototype of the Distributed PNT Test Facility has been implemented. The facility comprises laboratories and test infrastructure located in various places in Italy, such as the Airport of Grottaglie, the Integrated Simulation Facility of CIRA and the GLAAS GNSS – PNT Testbed in Rome from Telespazio, among others. By leveraging this diverse array of building blocks, a wide range of technologies can be tested across Italy in the Aurora Distributed Test facility. To ensure seamless Urban Air Mobility testing, the facility has two key offices, Management and Test. Management handles the test catalogue, liaises with stakeholders, and schedules activities. The Test Office translates customer needs into concrete tests, executes them, and delivers results. This collaboration guarantees efficient, reliable UAM advancements. Stakeholders include not only the scientific community, which can assess and validate novel technologies, but also UAS manufacturers and service providers seeking to test, verify, and certify new drones for specific missions or scenarios.

At the end of the project, valuable insights guiding the direction of the future Phase 2 were idenitified. A critical takeaway emphasized the necessity to fortify the operational framework of the PNT Testing Facility. This entails a meticulous delineation of roles, responsibilities, processes, and stakeholder interfaces within the U-Space Service Providers (USSP), ensuring seamless collaboration and communication for efficient facility operation. Furthermore, a comprehensive review of requirements is mandated due to identified discrepancies and missing elements, particularly within the Communication Layer and Network Management System. 

While Phase 1 adopted a system-level approach, Phase 2 will delve deeper with dedicated architectural design documents for the Network Management System and Experiment Monitoring Station. This granular design will provide a clear roadmap for implementation and ensure these crucial components conform precisely to project requirements. Finally, Phase 2 acknowledges the imperative to enhance Priority Building Blocks and other components. Implementing novel functionalities and addressing identified issues will be instrumental in optimizing overall performance and guaranteeing the facility's effective operation.

Thanks to the support of NAVISP, the AURORA project marks a substantial advancement in consolidating Italy's foothold in the growing UAM sector. By tackling the crucial issue of reliable PNT capabilities, the initiative sets the stage for the safety and reliability of UAM operations, thereby reshaping the landscape of urban transportation in Italy.

The project was part of NAVISP Element 3, aiming to support national PNT strategies by providing support per country and possibly per domain for the development and promotion of products, applications and services based on PNT systems to foster national and international cooperation.

The presentation's final slides are available at this link.