During Phases 1 and 2 of MagQuest, Spire Global and SBQuantum competed against each other to develop novel approaches to geomagnetic data collection. But after being invited to join only four other teams in Phase 3, the two decided to work together on their submission for the open innovation challenge. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s $2.1 million competition is accelerating novel approaches to geomagnetic data collection for the World Magnetic Model (WMM).

With Spire Global’s existing CubeSat infrastructure and SBQuantum’s expertise in magnetometers, the newly combined team is betting that they will be able to seamlessly merge the two solutions by August. Their consolidated solution integrates diamond magnetometer technology with a network of nanosatellites that are modified to provide greater redundancy and increased magnetic data quality.

We spoke with Spire Global’s Mark Carhart and SBQuantum’s David Roy-Guay about deciding to partner, combining solutions, and preparing to present to the Phase 3 judges.

Spire Global and SBQuantum competed in Phases 1 and 2 of MagQuest individually. Why did you decide to partner in Phase 3, and what does each side bring to the solution?
Roy-Guay: Based on feedback during the prior phases, it was clear that our two teams would make solid partners for MagQuest Phase 3 — we combine extended Concept of Operations (ConOps) expertise and a highly innovative approach to providing high-accuracy data, as required to produce the WMM.

SBQuantum is the manufacturer of a novel type of magnetometer exploiting the quantum properties of atomic impurities in synthetic diamonds. This sensor combines both the amplitude (value) and the vector component (orientation) of the magnetic field in the same package and minimizes extensive calibration methods. Compared to other magnetometers, the diamond also has the advantage of being practically immune to radiation — a big problem in space — and temperature variations. It also minimizes the effect of the satellite magnetic noise while suppressing heading errors.

Carhart: Spire offers custom orbital services where clients have the opportunity to integrate, test, and operate custom payloads on our Low Earth Orbit Multi-Use Receiver (“LEMUR”), a fully space-qualified CubeSat platform. In addition, we operate a complete network of ground stations and a U.S.-based cloud computing platform for data processing and distribution.

There are four other teams competing in Phase 3. What sets your solution for geomagnetic data collection apart?
Carhart: In a word: scale. Our solution is a highly feasible, low-risk technical approach that offers a reduction in physical size and cost by orders of magnitude.

Roy-Guay: The current WMM uses data from three big satellites the weight and size of a car and sensors that degrade accuracy over time. Our approach is to deploy multiple backpack-sized satellites including a diamond-based compass to enhance accuracy.

You are the only two solver teams joining forces in Phase 3 and have had just four months to combine your solutions. What are your priorities before you present the final design and testing plan to the judges?
Carhart: Our Phase 3 design efforts are focused on completing the design decisions, ensuring design traceability, and characterizing and optimizing our platform for magnetic cleanliness. We are also completing our ConOps so that we can fully model our design to meet the target performance metrics.

Roy-Guay: SBQuantum’s previous solution identified the major elements affecting the magnetic accuracy and precision for deployment onto a CubeSat. The choice of electronics and their placement is critical for successfully acquiring high-accuracy magnetic data. Even the best magnetometer needs an equally good orientation sensor to relate to Earth’s reference frame. For this phase, partnering with Spire allows us to detail precisely how the electronics, satellite platform, and external magnetic field noise sources affect measurements, and to prepare more robust hardware and software solutions.

What happens next

Over the next month, all five teams will continue iterating and refining their designs and testing plans for data collection methodologies. They will present their final submissions to the judging panel in September.

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