Nasa has entered Space Act Agreements with 17 aviation companies as it seeks to transform aerial transportation through the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Grand Challenge.

The challenge is designed to test the capabilities of vehicles and similar systems that can enable air-based passenger and cargo transportation.

If achieved, UAM will enable air shipments of small packages, as well as air taxi and ambulance services. Such aerial transportation is expected to be effective in around densely populated metropolitan regions and rural areas.

The UAM Grand Challenge brings together companies that are engaged or planning the development of air vehicles.

The challenge will also help to ensure public safety and conform to the best practices, which will subsequently enable the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to devise related regulations.

Nasa aeronautics associate administrator Robert Pearce said: “With this step, we’re continuing to put the pieces together that we hope will soon make real the long-anticipated vision of smaller piloted and unpiloted vehicles providing a variety of services around cities and in rural areas.

“Our partnership with the FAA will be a key factor in the successful and safe outcomes for industry that we can expect from conducting these series of Grand Challenges during the coming years.”

The first Grand Challenge is slated for 2022. In the meantime, several developmental testing activities will be carried out.

The first step, called the Grand Challenge Developmental Testing (GC-DT), involves activities to evaluate the readiness of Nasa’s test infrastructure.

The signed parties will participate in GC-DT and other activities that will culminate in the first Grand Challenge.

Nasa’s Advanced Air Mobility project is managing the UAM Grand Challenge.