Space Apps Challenge Bring in More Than 425 Canadian Participants

Part of the action at Space Apps Waterloo, host of the largest group of students participating in Canada. Credit: SkyWatch.

Canadian space geeks came together during a weekend earlier this month (Oct. 19 to 21) to hack, chat and create space apps that got the attention of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA.

More than 425 participants across the country took place in the 2018 International Space Apps Challenge, which uses space-based open data for applications that can be used on Earth. NASA had six challenges open and for the second consecutive year, the CSA had its own open data challenges for Canadians, too. These Canadian ones included:

  • Bio-monitoring data related to David Saint-Jacques’ Expedition 58-59 mission (rumoured to launch in early December);
  • Earth observations from RADARSAT-1 and RADARSAT-2 (in collaboration with Natural Resources Canada);
  • Climate change data from SCISAT and OSIRIS (Optical Spectrograph and InfraRed Imaging System) on the Odin satellite;
  • Aurora data from THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions During Substorms);
  • Asteroid information from the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat).

CSA experts were also on hand all weekend to answer questions, through a dedicated Slack channel for participants – who came from the cities of Edmonton, Winnipeg, Kitchener-Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Finalists were selected from each city and will have the chance to speak virtually with one of Canada’s four astronauts.

Space Apps Waterloo

“It was huge; we had over 210 participants and about 40 mentors, sponsors and volunteers,” said Kitchener-Waterloo co-organizer Marine Dumontier in a SpaceQ interview. Some participants were under 10 years old, working in families. She added that Waterloo was noted as one of the bigger gatherings in Canada and even worldwide, although other locations in Canada still pulled in several dozen people.

Examples of Kitchener-Waterloo winners for the NASA challenges included an app designed to help spot forest fires within a few minutes, and another program that transformed satellite images to music, using different terrain types in the imagery to correspond with different types of music. As for the CSA challenges, the three finalists selected were The Oblate Spheroids (climate change) Nerds of a Feather (bio-monitoring) and Romulus (asteroids).

Playlist of 30+ presentations to the judges at Space Apps Waterloo

Space Apps Toronto

Toronto attracted just under 80 people, in part because the city recently switched its organizing teams and there was some challenge in finding a venue that would hold a big enough crowd. Toronto co-organizer Roxy Fournier, who is also president of SEDS-Canada, said she was grateful for the support of the last organizing team, as well as the other cities in Canada.

“It was incredible, and thanks to all that support we were able to pull of a successful first year,” she told SpaceQ. She said the team is already searching for a bigger venue, and formulating its plans for 2019. Fournier said she herself drew inspiration from the Slack channel throughout the weekend, watching the teams share memes and information to keep each other going; “It was really fun to see the teams having fun with it, too,” she said.

Examples of Toronto winners include “Deep Space Musical” (by nine-year-old Arushi Nath, 12-year-old Artash Nath and their father), which transformed Hubble Space Telescope images into greyscale, whose tones would produce musical notes; and a Mohawk College collaboration called “Designed By Nature”, which created an inspector spacecraft – capable of using gecko-like sticky appendages – to attach on to satellites in search of possible damage. Another team, Microdoze, used the bio-monitoring data for the Saint-Jacques mission.

Space Apps Ottawa

Ottawa’s turnout numbered 46 people, which organizers said was a great number considering that the team had been preparing for SpaceApps’ usual season in April – not October. While it took some time to secure a venue at Carleton University, the venue and sponsors should be similar next year, co-organizer Ryan Anderson told SpaceQ.

He said the smaller number did work to people’s advantage. “Being a small group, I think people all got to know each other a little bit over the weekend. There were teams jumping over and talking to other teams, so it was a bit hard for me to know which was which,” he quipped. Ottawa’s Captiosus was selected for the CSA’s bio-monitoring challenge, while group The Lost Boy was selected as a finalist in the joint CSA-NRCan challenge called “save the coasts of the north.”

Space Apps Montreal

In Montreal the winners were;

Canadian Space Agency Challenge Winner:
Astromentis – Challenge: “Be a Bio-spy”

Space Apps Challenge 1st place Winner:
Rocket Earth – Challenge: “Do YOU Know When The Next Rocket Launch Is?”

SpaceApps Challenge 2nd place Winner:
MEEP – Challenge: Polar Quest

Jury’s Choice:
Explore With Hubble – Challenge: On the Shoulders of Giants

In the video below Space Apps Montreal participants discuss their apps.

The results from the NASA competition will be posted on this website after video submissions there close Oct. 28.

Winning Teams – CSA Challenges

TeamChallengesLocation
AstroMentisBe a bio-spyMontreal
CaptiosusBe a bio-spyOttawa
The Lost BoySave the coasts of the North (Joint NRCan/CSA challenge)Ottawa
MicrodozeBe a bio-spyToronto
The Oblate SpheroidsCommunicate climate changeKitchener-Waterloo
Nerds of a FeatherBe a bio-spyKitchener-Waterloo
RomulusAsteroid explorerKitchener-Waterloo
Team Winnipeg: Jets to SpaceSave the coasts of the North (Joint NRCan/CSA challenge)Winnipeg
Team JaimeBe a bio-spyWinnipeg
Bio-spy YEGBe a bio-spyEdmonton
The ImpactorsAsteroid explorerEdmonton
MDA

About Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell
Canadian space and science reporter, researcher and consultant. I also am pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of North Dakota.