Space Apps Challenge goes virtual and grows in Canada

Astronaut Jeremy Hansen speaking at the Waterloo Space Apps Challenge. Credit: CSA.

The Space Apps Challenge started as a NASA backed hackathon nine years ago with global participation. It has now grown to the point where Canada can stand on its own with five years of Canadian Space Agency support, and this year, a national sponsor in MDA.

Despite the pandemic, a record nine locations in Canada will participate in the annual Space Apps Challenge which begins today and runs through Sunday. This year there are Space Apps Challenge events in Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto (2 events), Hamilton, Guelph, Waterloo, Calgary and Vancouver. A list of all global locations is available on the Space Apps Challenge website.

According to Space Apps Canada, all of the locations in Canada are collaborating for the first time. They will be working “together on a shared online space with mentors from the space and tech industry to help participants from across Canada solve the Space Apps challenge and learn more about some of the problems the industry is trying to solve.”

Beyond support from the national space agencies in Canada and the US, this year’s edition also includes collaboration from the European Space Agency (ESA), JAXA (Japan) and CNES (France).

Space Apps Challenges

As in past years the challenges are divided into seven areas:

  • Observe – Observation is critical to gathering the scientific and technical knowledge needed to take action. Space-based technologies, especially Earth-observing satellites, have given us a greater understanding of Earth and allowed us to probe into the depths of space. Challenges in this category will ask you to devise tools that make observation data more accessible for use by scientists, decision-makers, and the public.
  • Inform – To make good decisions, we all must be well informed. NASA, CSA, CNES, JAXA, and ESA not only gather space-based data, but they also compile archival data and share analysis and results with policy makers, scientists, and/or the broader community. This challenge category asks you to look at space agency data with fresh eyes. Come up with effective ways for engaging others about scientific and historical information.
  • Sustain – Advances in space exploration and Earth science have revealed the importance of building a sustainable future. What actions can we take to sustain our home planet, so that it is livable for future generations? And how can we sustain human life in the harsh conditions of space?
  • Create – Creation lies at the heart of change. Whether it’s artwork, hardware, or a new technology, challenges in this category will ask you to imagine, build, and create awareness.
  • Confront – From natural disasters to social and economic inequality, there comes a time when we must confront the problems we detect. Pick a challenge in this category to tackle a variety of issues at local, national, and/or global levels. How can technology serve as a tool for change?
  • Connect – Connection empowers us to take action together. Challenges in this category will ask you to examine methods for communicating with one another, and to analyze the complex networks of people and ideas that contribute to space agency missions on Earth and in space.
  • Invent your own challenge – Pose your own challenge, and create a solution of your own choosing! Reminder: Solutions in this category are wonderful, but they are not eligible for global judging or awards from NASA.

Teams will work virtually over the next 48 hours using open source data from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. On Sunday afternoon each location will have a panel of judges that will evaluate the apps each team has hacked together. The winner of each location will then be judged by NASA to determine a global winner.

As an example of what can come off these types of hackathons is the Waterloo based company SkyWatch. The founders of the SkyWatch won the global event in 2014. They followed that up by building a nationally recognized and venture backed startup that now employees 30 people and which earlier this year closed a US$7.5 million Series A round of funding. Those same founders now organize the Waterloo event each year.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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