Prize Challenges

Passive Ionospheric Non-characterized Sounding (PINS) Challenge

Can you passively characterize the ionosphere with selected digitized radio-frequency (RF) spectrum recordings containing active sounders? The PINS Challenge presents an opportunity for individuals and teams to earn prizes by developing algorithms that characterize and model the effects of ionospheric variations on high frequency emissions.

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Who We Are: The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), focuses on high-risk, high-payoff research programs to tackle difficult challenges of the agencies and disciplines in the intelligence community. IARPA’s challenges invite experts from the broader research community to participate in IARPA research in a convenient, efficient, and non-contractual way.

What We’re Doing: IARPA is looking to estimate ionospheric states using a small set of digitized radio-frequency (RF) spectrum recordings containing active sounders. IARPA hosts these challenges to identify ways that individuals, academia, and others with a passion for physics and data science can showcase their skills easily.

Where We’re Doing This: Despite lying over a hundred miles above the surface of the Earth, the ionosphere plays an active role in our day-to-day lives through its effect on High-Frequency (HF) Radio propagation. International air traffic controllers, oceanographers using surface wave radars, the space launch community, and many others are all affected by the constantly varying electron density distribution within the ionosphere. These impacts can range from altering your car AM radio quality to affecting air traffic control communications.

Studying the impacts of the ionosphere on HF Radio has proven to be very difficult. Installing and operating ionospheric sounding systems, called ionosondes, requires a large amount of electricity, human resources, and the construction of an entire infrastructure of high-profile antennas. However, passively receiving a characterized or non-characterized sounder transmission is considerably more convenient. It requires a fraction of an active sounder’s power and space requirements while also utilizing lower-profile equipment that can be easily installed temporarily.

Who Should Participate: Technologists, physicists, radiologists, data scientists, and machine learning engineers who are skilled at breaking down complex data are encouraged to join. Individuals ranging from private industry and academia are all eligible to participate and win prizes. The PINS Challenge team believes success in this challenge can prove to be a strong addition to any data science practitioner’s portfolio.

Certain individuals and groups with existing agreements with IARPA may not be eligible for cash prizes but may be able to compete for standing on the leaderboard and other non-monetary incentives. Additional eligibility rules will be available closer to launch.

Why Should You Participate: This challenge gives you a chance to join a community of leading experts to advance your research, contribute to global security and humanitarian activities, and compete for cash prizes. This is your chance to test your forecasting skills and prove yourself against the state-of-the-art, and to demonstrate your superiority over political pundits. By participating, you may:

  • Network with collaborators and experts to advance your research
  • Gain recognition for your work and your methods
  • Test your methods and monitor how you stack up amongst competitors
  • Win prizes from a total prize purse of $150,000

Throughout the challenge, an online leaderboard will display solvers’ rankings and accomplishments, giving you opportunities to have your work viewed and appreciated by leaders from industry, government and academia.

When We're Doing This: For updates, email us at

When does registration and algorithm building begin? Spring 2019
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