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What is the World Magnetic Model?

Earth is a giant magnet. Compasses — both digital and analog — are oriented by the magnetic force at a user’s location. Since geographic and magnetic poles do not align, geomagnetic models like the World Magnetic Model (WMM) correct for this difference. As the Earth’s magnetic field is constantly changing, the difference between geographic and magnetic poles also changes, and the WMM must be regularly updated.

The WMM is a joint product of the United States’ National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and the United Kingdom’s Defence Geographic Centre. It is produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the British Geological Survey (BGS) at five-year intervals to account for the evolution of the magnetic field structure. Recent erratic movement of the north magnetic pole led to the release of an out-of-cycle update to the WMM in early 2019.

An opportunity to rethink geomagnetic data collection

Production of the WMM currently uses space-based magnetic field measurements that the European Space Agency (ESA) Swarm mission has provided since 2013. Swarm mission satellites contain several instruments capable of producing a variety of measurements, including magnetic vector field measurements. To ensure sustainability of the WMM, the U.S. government is taking a proactive approach to identifying new methods of data collection independent of Swarm. (Learn more about the World Magnetic Model in the 2015 World Magnetic Model Report).

The World Magnetic Model is used every day around the world

The WMM is embedded in thousands of systems. More than a billion smartphone users depend on the WMM to point them in the right direction when they use mobile navigation apps. Drivers rely on the WMM to power the compasses in their cars.

The WMM is also critical for military and commercial uses around the world. Among other applications, it supports navigation and attitude determination for submarines, satellites, and aircraft, while also informing operational logistics like the numbering of runways.

Beyond navigation, the WMM ensures precise orientation that supports applications in industries as diverse as energy and telecommunications. (Learn more about the applications of the WMM in Additional Resources.)

MagQuest, a multiphase open innovation challenge

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) calls upon solvers to submit novel approaches to geomagnetic data collection for the World Magnetic Model. This open innovation challenge is designed to attract new ideas to increase the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of geomagnetic data collection.

With MagQuest, NGA aims to inspire domestic and international solvers to apply their expertise to spaceborne, aerial, terrestrial, and other potential solution areas. Solvers from small businesses, academic institutions, labs, startups, and other organizations are encouraged to enter the competition.

The first two phases (March 2019 through September 2019) will award $1.2 million. At NGA’s discretion, additional phases of the challenge may follow Phase 2. These phases, if executed, are anticipated to award an additional $2.5 million in cash prizes plus potential non-monetary incentives such as access to launch services and a potential advance market commitment.

Phase 1: Concepts

Phase 1 was open to all eligible solvers. In Phase 1:

  • The challenge sought concepts that proposed novel methods or technologies that may be promising to provide sufficient data for the WMM.
  • A successful Phase 1 concept considered all elements of a solution (sensor, platform, data analysis), but may have highlighted one element more than others.
  • Submissions opened March 21, 2019 and closed May 16, 2019.
  • Ten winners were nominated by the judges according to official Phase 1 selection criteria. The total Phase 1 prize pool of $200,000 will be distributed evenly across Phase 1 winners.
  • As part of their acceptance of the associated Phase 1 monetary prize, winners agreed to have a brief synopsis of their concept published on the MagQuest website.
  • Meet the Phase 1 winners and read about their concepts here.

Phase 2: Detailed designs

Phase 2 is open to solvers from Phase 1, as well as new solvers who did not participate in the first phase of the challenge. Success in Phase 2 may require greater breadth of expertise, and participants will have the opportunity to form expanded teams.

See the Solver Community for more information on potential team collaboration.

In Phase 2:

  • The challenge seeks detailed designs and plans for data collection methodologies, including a concept of operations, a description of expected performance and potential risks, and an overview of potential future program management.
  • A successful Phase 2 design will detail all elements of a solution: sensor, platform, and data analysis. The sensor is the instrumentation that makes geomagnetic field measurements, the platform holds or carries this instrumentation, and data analysis refers to the mechanism for processing and distributing data.
  • Submissions will open June 20, 2019 and close August 28, 2019.
  • Educational webinars will be hosted in Phase 2 for interested solvers. Potential webinar topics include an orientation to Phase 2 submissions and teaming information, a technical deep-dive on relevant submission topics, and an overview of regulatory or commercialization considerations. More webinar details will be provided as they are confirmed.
  • Up to five (5) winners will be nominated by the judges according to official Phase 2 selection criteria. The total Phase 2 prize pool of $1 million will be distributed across Phase 2 winners.
  • As part of their acceptance of the associated Phase 2 monetary prize, winners will agree to have a brief synopsis of their concept published on the MagQuest website.

At NGA’s discretion, additional phases of the challenge may follow Phase 2. These phases, if executed, are anticipated to award an additional $2.5 million in cash prizes plus potential nonmonetary incentives.

Potential Phase 3: Build and test

In a potential Phase 3, the challenge would likely require the development and testing of prototypes that could be capable of collecting sufficient data for the WMM. Winners would be nominated by judges according to Phase 3 selection criteria.

Potential Phase 4: Deploy and operate

In a potential Phase 4, the challenge would likely require the deployment and operation of solutions that could collect at least one year of data. Winners would be nominated by judges according to Phase 4 selection criteria.