The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has announced the launch of Phase 4bc of MagQuest, a multimillion-dollar competition to advance how to measure Earth’s magnetic field. Phase 4 started in 2021 with the three Phase 3 winning teams. In Phase 4a, teams constructed and successfully demonstrated their unique magnetometer solutions for CubeSats. During Phase 4bc, teams will build, test, and launch their solutions into low-Earth orbit. The goal of MagQuest is to develop possible magnetic measurement solutions for the World Magnetic Model 2030.

The WMM is a joint product of the NGA and the United Kingdom’s Defence Geographic Centre. It is produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British Geological Survey at five-year intervals to account for the evolution of the magnetic field structure.

The Phase 4bc teams and their proposed solutions are:

  • 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 designed specifically for CubeSats enables high-quality collection of magnetic field data.
  • Diamond-Powered Geomagnetic Data Collection from LEO (Spire Global and SBQuantum). A diamond quantum magnetometer system deployed on a CubeSat, combining SBQuantum’s novel magnetometer technology and sensor expertise with Spire Global’s existing infrastructure for satellites, ground stations and data processing.
  • Io-1 (Iota Technology). A CubeSat featuring a deployable helical boom, vector fluxgate magnetometer, and atomic scalar magnetometer. Iota Technology is working alongside industry-leading partners, combining expertise in sensor technology, deployable structures, and mission design.

Phase 4bc provides the participating teams with both monetary and technical support as they build, test, and launch their solutions to collect high-quality geomagnetic data for evaluation against WMM performance specifications. The teams will have access to experts from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. Phase 4bc will also provide teams access to external mentors with interdisciplinary perspectives spanning magnetic measurement, engineering of space-based technology, and management of successful missions.

During Phase 4bc, teams will build their nanosatellites, integrate their magnetometers, conduct final testing, and plan for launch and data collection. Following launch, teams will begin magnetic data collection and comparison of this data to the current model.

An expert review panel will evaluate progress across key milestones during Phase 4bc, which is anticipated to conclude in September 2026.

About MagQuest
Earth is a giant magnet, and since geographic and magnetic poles do not align, geomagnetic models like the WMM correct for this difference. From powering mobile navigation apps to supporting military navigation, the WMM is critical for logistics around the world.

To improve resilience and sustainability of production of the WMM, NGA proactively launched MagQuest to identify and accelerate new technologies that could capture high-quality geomagnetic data; many of the technologies identified also demonstrate potential to advance space exploration more broadly.

Since the MagQuest competition opened in 2019, NGA has worked with innovative experts in spaceborne, aerial, and terrestrial solutions to identify and accelerate the most promising new methods to capture magnetic field data for the WMM.

 “Through MagQuest, NGA and our partner agencies have accelerated the development of unique solutions for capturing critical WMM data,” said Mike Paniccia, NGA WMM program manager. “With the WMM being used by citizens and military around the globe, developing resilient infrastructure for the decades to come is critical for U.S. and allied partner competition and security.”

The results of MagQuest will inform NGA’s acquisition strategy for a WMM global magnetic field data collection capability, with an expected procurement that can provide operational capacity to support production of the WMM 2030.

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