Space-based solutions for measuring Earth’s magnetic field

Space-based solutions for measuring Earth’s magnetic field

MagQuest awards $1 million to Phase 2 winners

The phrase “space economy” is often used in connection with lunar landers, SpaceX prototypes, or a Virgin Galactic merger. But the $350 billion industry isn’t only about moonshots, deep space exploration, and orbital tourism. Space-based solutions — including sensors on small satellites — can offer effective ways to address our everyday needs here on Earth.

Last week, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency announced five winners in the second phase of MagQuest, a global competition to advance how we measure Earth’s magnetic field. The challenge, designed and produced by Luminary Labs, awarded $1 million in cash prizes across the winners.

Phase 2 called for designs and plans for geomagnetic data collection methodologies for the World Magnetic Model (WMM), which is embedded in thousands of systems — supporting navigation for smartphones, commercial airlines, the military, and more. To compete in Phase 2, solvers developed detailed designs for efficient, reliable, and sustainable data collection.

Submissions from U.S. and international innovators in industry and academia predominantly included space solutions, such as small satellites, as well as aerial, oceanic, and land-based solutions. Four of the five winners submitted designs that would use sensors on satellites to collect geomagnetic data for the WMM.

Congratulations to the Phase 2 winners:

  • Compact Spaceborne Magnetic Observatory (COSMO) CubeSat (University of Colorado Boulder). A CubeSat specifically designed and tested for magnetic cleanliness and accurate data from a compact form factor. A compact, scalar-vector magnetometer — a miniaturized version of the magnetometer used by Swarm — enables high-quality data collection.
  • CubeSat-powered Geomagnetic Data Collection (Spire Global). A global constellation of CubeSats that could provide greater redundancy and increased data quality. This system brings modified commercial magnetic sensor technology to  Spire’s existing infrastructure for satellites, ground stations, and data processing.
  • Global Acquisition of Magnetic Measurements at Altitude (GAMMA) (Stellar Solutions). Adding magnetometers as hosted payloads to planned satellite launches with optional integration of ground-based sensors. The combination of spaceborne and terrestrial data could increase coverage and decrease risk.
  • Small Integrated Geomagnetic Array (SIGMA) (Iota Technology). A CubeSat with eight magnetometers; the 3D array could provide greater precision and accuracy than a comparable fluxgate magnetometer. The design is in collaboration with AAC Clyde Space, a small satellite manufacturer.
  • Terrestrial and Seafloor Automated Magnetic Observatories (Royal Meteorological Institute of Belgium). An international network of 103 automated magnetic observatories on land and the seafloor. The observatories could be deployed at almost any global location; automation could deliver continuous data while decreasing staffing and support needs.

Learn more about the Phase 2 winners and subscribe to the challenge newsletter for updates on potential future phases.