NGA launches new phase of Earth magnetic field project

September 28, 2021  - By
Image: Credit: Petrovich9/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Image: Credit: Petrovich9/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency launches Phase 4a of MagQuest Challenge to advance NASA’s ability to measure Earth’s magnetic field

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) has launched the Demonstration Phase (Phase 4a) of its MagQuest Challenge to develop novel data-collection approaches for the World Magnetic Model.

The WMM ultimately ensures the accuracy of navigation, because it corrects for differences in magnetic forces at a user’s location. The model is used by thousands of systems for mobile navigation apps and is critical for military and commercial uses around the world.

Produced since 1905, the WMM originated with data collection from two ships surveying 500,000 miles of ocean. Today, the data is collected by satellites operated by the European Space Agency that will eventually reach the end of their useful life.

NGA’s MagQuest Challenge is promoting the development of miniaturized solutions to determine whether they can produce data useful to support WMM production. NGA has an extensive network of government partners collaborating on the WMM production, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the British Geological Survey, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Department of Defense (DOD), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the United States Naval Observatory (USNO) among others.

As part of its core mission, NGA provides geospatial intelligence products and services to decision makers, military service members, and first responders.

The MagQuest Demonstration Phase 4a will take place on HeroX, a social network platform for crowdsourced solutions.

Three winning teams from Phase 3 of MagQuest each proposed a magnetometer design to measure the Earth’s magnetic field. In this new phase, the teams will receive several million dollars in awards, including a $1.55 million incentive prize purse, to develop their proposed magnetometers. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will conduct independent testing on each team’s prototype.

Following Phase 4a, successful teams will integrate their magnetometers into their satellites and launch their systems, acquire data and share their results with NGA.

“Our ultimate goal is for all three teams to successfully develop a magnetometer, each of which can be sent into orbit to determine viability for WMM production,” said Mike Paniccia, NGA program manager for the World Magnetic Model. “We want to test as many innovative and groundbreaking magnetometers as possible to ensure that NGA has a robust set of data suppliers to support the future of the WMM. We intend to have a competitive procurement for a data-buy contract following MagQuest and hope that these three teams, in addition to others from industry, will be able to supply comprehensive data sets to support the future of the WMM.”

Three of the teams that participated in Phase 3 were selected to participate in Phase 4:

  • Iota Technology, the first-place Phase 3 winner, works alongside experienced teams from Oxford Space Systems and AAC Clyde Space. Their combined expertise in sensor technology, deployable structures and mission design informed the design of their SIGMA solution — a 3U CubeSat featuring a novel deployable boom and a 3D magnetometer array.
  • University of Colorado Boulder is one second-place Phase 3 winner, and their solution, COSMO, leverages recent innovations in CubeSat technology and novel magnetometer technology. The University of Colorado Boulder team includes experts and faculty from the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and they operate their missions entirely at the university, including using their own ground stations.
  • Spire Global and SBQuantum formed a partnership with a promising approach to become the other second-place Phase 3 winner. SBQuantum’s novel diamond-based quantum magnetometer technology is coupled with Spire’s expertise and existing infrastructure in satellites, ground stations and data processing to produce a unique solution.

“This MagQuest Challenge is a testament to the power of the crowd,” said Kal K. Sahota, CEO, HeroX. “We are pleased to be part of securing the future of geomagnetic data collection and consequently contributing to the resilience and continued crucial work of the WMM.”

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.