NASA has awarded a $9.5 million task order contract to four companies to address “system technology gaps that are exposed by the operational challenges” of the next-generation air traffic control system (NextGen).

The two-year contracts, each with three one-year follow-on options, were awarded to Boeing, Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Saab Sensis on June 3. NASA began soliciting proposals for the work in November 2012. Along with requirements analysis and design, and analysis of systems concepts, the companies are tasked with simulating and flight-testing solutions for the system’s technology gaps.

For airborne flight decks or ground-based unmanned aircraft control stations, the research will include technologies and methods to improve situational awareness of real-time electronic information. That information may include the aircraft’s position in four dimensions, the location and identity of traffic, terrain and obstacles, and the location and type of hazardous weather. The companies are also tasked with studying the human factors designs of how that information can be best presented on flight decks or at control stations, including developing human-machine interfaces that “reduce uncertainties associated with real-time information presentation,” according to the contract documentation.

Evaluations are to include both simulated and flight tests of human-in-the-loop experiments.

The contracts also are intended to aid in the design of new air traffic control systems for NextGen. Along with increasing situational awareness for controllers, the research is to include new designs for strategic and tactical collaborative decision-making, “seamless surveillance,” controller-pilot datalink communications and alerting pilots when they deviate from their routes.

NASA has not revealed which tasks will be assigned to specific contractors.

[Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the dollar value of the awarded contracts.]