Questions and Answers from MagQuest Phases 1-2 Webinars

Questions and answers from the MagQuest Phases 1 and 2 informational webinars, the Phase 2 technical webinar, and the Phase 2 program management webinar are available below. The webinars are intended for informational purposes only, and all information presented here is superseded by the Rules, Terms & Conditions page on the MagQuest website.


Submissions and eligibility

What is the format for the submission response and optional appendix?

The submission response should be a maximum of 15 pages; however, additional content may be included in an appendix. The appendix is not guaranteed to receive the same level of review as the first 15 pages of the submission, but may provide helpful context or clarification.

Submissions should be submitted as a PDF and formatted with 1-inch margins (2.5 cm), using an easily read font with minimum 12-point size. 

Is the Phase 2 submission considered a "proposal" -- similar to what a US defense contractor would typically submit to the Government (e.g., DFARS regulations, etc., realistic cost estimates based on approved labor rates, etc.).

  • Please refer to the MagQuest submission information for details on the submission.
  • The competition is seeking information on lifecycle cost. Solvers can apply their discretion to the level of cost fidelity they submit.

How do you suggest including margin in the budget estimate?

MagQuest is not requesting specific values, but one suggestion for solvers is to match margin to risk. This could include commenting on the risks that may require additional margin, and providing justification for the level of margin suggested.

Is an industry / academia team acceptable? Are there any terms in the split of award funds in this case?

As noted in the Rules, Terms & Conditions, any eligible individuals or legal entities can form a team. Monetary prizes will be paid directly to the designated Team Lead by Luminary Labs. Monetary prize winner(s) distribute prize money among team members at their own discretion and will be responsible for any applicable local, state, and federal taxes and reporting that may be required under applicable tax laws.

How does a dedicated mission compare to a secondary WMM mission? Most of the submissions were add-on sensors to existing missions, ours is a dedicated mission. Does that harm or help us?

All other things being equal, there is no preference for either a dedicated or a secondary mission. Proposing a dedicated mission in and of itself won’t harm or hurt the submission.

Who will be eligible to participate in potential future phases of the challenge?

A potential Phase 3 of the challenge will likely be restricted to winners or other selected Phase 2 solution providers, at the discretion of NGA.

In a potential Phase 3, the challenge would likely require the development and testing of systems that should be capable of collecting data of sufficient quality and quantity for the WMM.

Will Phase 3 projects and teaming be limited by Phase 2 projects and teaming? I.e., will we be limited in Phase 3 to what was proposed in Phase 2, or can we explore new ideas and teams in Phase 3?

As potential future phases are considered, more information will be provided.

Can participants submit multiple concepts?

Yes, participants can provide more than one submission, but will need to submit each of these as separate submission forms.

Regarding eligibility, is the "government exclusions list" based on nationality?

Please review the Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List (SDN), published by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, for more information. Links to this list have also been included on the official Rules, Terms & Conditions, as well as in the Solver Profile section of the submission form.

Data analysis and format

What exactly is meant by "data analysis" on the MagQuest solvers community page? Is it simply calibrated Level 0 (i.e. Level 1 data) or are you expecting some kind of merging of the ancillary data with the mag data?

Level 1 data is needed for the WMM – which means data are fully calibrated. In the case of vector magnetometer data, orientation is also needed. Either the rotation is applied to the magnetic field or information is provided to apply this rotation. The more ancillary data provided, the more information that can inform the calibration process, and the better for WMM calculation.

Regarding data format: Will you release the data format you are expecting so we may adequately address our data processing & link budget? What is the ideal form of the data to be output from the submitters solutions? e.g. 3 component magnetic field vector in nT, plus time (to what resolution?), plus position and orientation (to what accuracy?) or something else?

Further information may be provided at a later date. In the meantime, good guidelines can be found from existing INTERMAGNET and SWARM data currently being used along with other data to derive the WMM.

What is the preferred standard geophysical reference frame?

The preferred reference frame is North-East-Center, which is the reference frame used for SWARM data.

Can you confirm or deny that a "9 degree polar gap" is more specifically a 9 degree radius?

9 degrees is the maximum radius of the polar donut hole for polar orbiting satellites that will meet the MagQuest geographic coverage target performance metric.

If stacking can be used to improve the accuracy of measurements, would it be preferred that this be done by the solvers or the WMM team?

Regarding aggregation of data at a particular location: it is not preferable for the solver to do that, as the WMM team has tailored calculation algorithms for prioritizing data or reducing redundant data.

What are the details of your interface point? Can you define the ground interface, cloud or data analysis center?

What really matters is the ability to pull data on a regular basis, the preferred rate being once per day. An FTP “pull” would meet this need, however other effective means of interface are possible and welcome.

The separation of magnetic field signals is part of the WMM production process. Should this really concern the sensor, platform, and data solutions put forward?

  • Most of the natural magnetic field sources will be removed and separated from the core field as part of WMM development.
  • There are some cases (e.g., in terrestrial or ocean-based solutions) where existing models cannot be used to remove the magnetic field from crustal elements. In those cases, it is important that the proposed solution include a strategy to remove these natural sources. For example, with ocean-based sensors, the effect of oceanic currents would somehow need to be specifically addressed by the platform.

For space platforms, if all platform and instrument noise, bias, and errors are removed (a perfect measurement), is there any additional processing required to create the measurement acceptable for the WMM?

The next step once a “perfect measurement” has been achieved (including the removal of all noise) is to ensure that the vector magnetic field is in a geophysically meaningful reference frame; and that the attitude, orientation, and position are identified.

The World Magnetic Model, current data and measurement practices

How significantly were the needs of the WMM factored into SWARM's original requirements? In other words, was the WMM a major driver of SWARM's design or did SWARM data simply meet / exceed the requirements for producing the WMM?

There has never been a satellite that was built specifically to accommodate the WMM or even with the WMM in mind. SWARM is the latest in a series of satellites that happened to be in the right orbit with the right sensor for use in calculating the WMM. (Past satellites before SWARM are CHAMP and Ørsted.)

Data used from Swarm, as per the technical note release with the latest WMM update, was downselected to data mostly or entirely collected in eclipse. Is this an expected nominal part of the ConOps due to the effects on the magnetic field or was that a consequence of the measurements obtained?

Nighttime measurements are more commonly used to avoid magnetic fields generated by currents in the ionosphere, and it is expected this will remain the same in the near future.

What is the expected relationship with the European Space Agency (ESA) going forward?

There is no expectation solvers will propose a relationship with ESA. The ESA happens to run SWARM, and that is currently the best place to get the data for the WMM.

What is the relationship between the WMM and the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF)? Is there any sharing of source data and techniques between these two models?

  • Mathematically, the IGRF and WMM are similar models, but there are still a number of differences between them. The WMM, produced by NOAA NCEI and BGS, is released regularly every five years, and is actively monitored to ensure that the specification of the model is met.
  • The IGRF is an international model, built by approximately eight teams from various institutions, and is under the auspices of the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy (IAGA). The IGRF is usually released according to a similar schedule as the WMM, but is not subject to any particular specification. NOAA NCEI and BGS contribute to the IGRF by submitting candidate models, but do not manage the IGRF, and the final IGRF model is calculated by averaging models from multiple teams.

Has cell phone data helped improve the current WMM?

NOAA has an exploratory project called CrowdMag that collects cell phone magnetometer data, and has been collecting such data for several years. This data is not currently being used in the WMM, but there are reasons to believe the data quality could be improved in the future, and NOAA is currently exploring this possibility for future applications of the WMM.

Is the WMM a static model or does it include dynamic effects, such as its response to geomagnetic storms?

The WMM is a static model, and does not try to predict response to geomagnetic storms. Secular variation is a time variable, but it is a slow change (much slower than geomagnetic storms).

Target performance metrics

Is there a performance metric for mobile oceanic magnetic observations?

Please refer to the target performance metrics; these target metrics apply to all solutions and platforms, and terrestrial targets also apply to oceanic solutions. The recording from the July 24 technical webinar provides additional detail on these metrics is available for viewing here.

Referring to measurement location / terrestrial-aerial solution, should we consider starting "from scratch" (as if no observatory is existing), or can we consider our solution would complement existing intermagnet network? (and potentially, we would upgrade some magnetic observatories)

If it is expected that a solution will make use of existing data to complement newly obtained data, submissions should note that and specify requirements and/or assumptions associated with using existing data or networks. Otherwise, reviewers will assume complementary data is not being used.

Given the current usage of SWARM and INTERMAGNET, to what extent / how are the current ground nodes of use and are there any coverage gaps that would be helpful to have filled?

Current usage of INTERMAGNET data is for model calculation, and especially for model validation. The current requirement for nodes is based on simulations to determine the minimal geographic distribution requirements, so there is no particular coverage gap that needs to be filled. That said, a solution can propose leveraging INTERMAGNET and/or additional or new observatories, provided it achieves the 70 nodes coverage target.

This question is regarding the 1 measurement/second requirement. For a solution with multiple sensors, is it necessary for each satellite to take 1 measurement/second? Or would it be acceptable to have the system as a whole take 1 measurement per second. For example, in a 100 satellite constellation each spacecraft takes a measurement at 1/100Hz, so the system still takes 1/second.

This particular constellation scenario has not been tested, so a specific answer is not possible. It is generally safe to assume that 1hz is not required for a constellation, though the exact number has not been determined. Frequency requirements are intended to supply a sufficient quantity of data for WMM calculation given very strict data selection criteria.

Is the measurement resolution flexible with respect to lower system cost?

Specific cases have not been tested, but the required target of 1 nT is seen as reasonable and achievable with modern instruments. 

Is the requirement for +/- 70,000 nT relaxed for measurements at altitude since the magnetic field weakens as altitude increases?

No, this requirement is not relaxed. This is required for both ground and low earth orbit data because the amplitude of the magnetic field doesn’t weaken enough between ground and low earth orbit that the requirement should change, and we need to be able to capture magnetic variations due to storms, etc.

Over what period of time should a complete magnetic field set of measurements be made? This would determine the minimum on-orbit life for a very low-cost constellation of CubeSats to make these measurements.

  • The minimum requirement stated for the measurement time interval in the Target Performance Metrics is three years of data, because this is the duration used at NCEI to calculate the WMM. A long enough time span is needed to accurately calculate the time derivative of the magnetic field, which is crucial to forecast five years of data into the future. With more data, longer time spans can be used, and in some situations, this can increase the accuracy of the forecast calculation.
  • Publication dates for the WMM are set at five-year intervals (e.g., for 2025, 2030…) and an absolute minimum of three years of data are required for the model to be produced, but a constant source of data would be preferable, as it would allow the ability to test the model during the other two “off years.”

Are there areas on the globe where coverage is less important (given the end users of the WMM) either in re-visit frequency or in spatial resolution? How important is the polar region coverage?

  • The WMM Military Specification (Mil-Spec) outlines the coverage NGA is required to meet. As an overview, 55 degrees north and above are measured as one region; 55 degrees south and below are measured as another region; and the entire globe is a third region. For each of those regions, the error needs to be under one degree. Due to this approach, polar coverage is more important to meet the Mil-Spec, but other regions should not be excluded.
  • The WMM is a global model that is used everywhere and no region is discounted. Any significant geographic gaps will impact the accuracy of calculating the WMM, and it is important to have geographically homogeneous coverage.

Aerial solutions

Why are you replacing the satellite? Are you willing to go back to aerial?

In the past aerial measurements have been used for the WMM. Magnetometers were attached to the back of aircraft, but the operational costs were too high; however, this may no longer be the case. A feasible aerial concept, such as a fleet of solar-powered UAVs that could hover over different parts of the globe, could be a submission to MagQuest.

Any platform other than a satellite seems to be more localized in terms of data acquisition, and having global coverage (i.e., UAVs) will likely be more time or resource consuming. How can we make sure airborne and terrestrial surveys are comparable to satellite?

That is a challenge with UAVs, sea-based systems, or ground-based systems on their own. Ultimately, the goal is global coverage and solutions should address ways to mitigate coverage gaps. For example, with solely ground-based sensors on land, gaps would be present in the ocean (and vice versa). It is possible to collaborate with other participants to help mitigate coverage challenges.

Terrestrial solutions

How many ground observatories are used?

The INTERMAGNET website lists all ground observatories and locations (e.g., see List of IMOs and Responsible GINs). MagQuest’s Additional Resources page provides additional relevant information. The BGS typically uses 100-120 observatories to calculate their version of the model.

For terrestrial observatories in particular, do you currently do processing across multiple disparate locations to help differentiate local field effects [crustal biases] from the actual Earth magnetic field? Or is the current per-observatory processing limited to a single observatory?

Assuming this question of “local field effects” refers to crustal biases — yes, it is important to know what the effects of the crustal field are at the observatory location before calculating the WMM. The local field effects at existing observatories are already known as a result of satellite data from the past two decades, so it is possible to accurately calculate this crustal bias by calculating models using both satellite and observatory data. If, however, a solver proposes new observatories, it would be important to propose a method for how they would determine the crustal bias. This could be done as long as there is a satellite in space such as the SWARM mission, and this information could be used in the future.

What is the difference between Earth’s magnetic field from local effects, such as metal and current?

In a terrestrial observatory, the observation site is kept magnetically clean and this typically removes local effects. It is the responsibility of the observatory to ensure this magnetic cleanliness. It is challenging for an observation site to remain magnetically clean over time, and this is why there are not very many observatories.