NASA is ready to award up to $50 million over a five-year period to universities to explore aviation innovations, the administration said. As part of NASA's Aeronautics University Leadership Initiative (ULI), five universities — with five research topics — have been selected for negotiations, which could lead to a potential award:
- University of South Carolina, for research into advanced, wireless communication networks to enhance the safety and efficiency of air traffic management with both piloted aircraft and drones.
- Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, for research into designing commercial supersonic aircraft that could modify their shape during a flight to help minimize noise from sonic booms.
- University of Tennessee, Knoxville, for research into designing an ultra-efficient aerodynamic wing that could enable significant savings in fuel or energy consumption.
- Ohio State University, for research into electric propulsion, including areas of battery and energy storage and thermal management, among others.
- Arizona State University, for research into safely integrating the complex set of data sources that will drive future air traffic management systems.
The university teams pitched their own research topics; NASA did not appoint any for them.
“Potential outcomes of the research could include revolutionary technologies, operational concepts, design tools, models, or other advancements we can’t even begin to characterize today,” said Doug Rohn, director of NASA’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program. “With ULI we want to provide a forum for U.S. universities to show their leadership in innovation to contribute to our nation’s aviation community.”