Space Apps Challenge: Global Teamwork for Earth and Space

Published: May 12 2017

SERVIR hubs joined over 185 other locations in 69 countries across the globe in hosting the 2017 NASA International Space Apps Challenge.  The event is an international mass collaboration, or ‘hackathon’, engaging developers, Geographic Information System (GIS)-savvy students, engineering students, and entrepreneurs from around the world to work together on solving challenges relevant to improving life on Earth and in space.

The Challenge takes place over 48 hours in cities worldwide and includes a virtual participation option, allowing involvement by innovators around the globe who are unable to travel to a host city. This year’s event attracted a record number of participants striving to provide innovative solutions to global challenges entitled “The Earth and Us,” “Planetary Blues,” “Warning! Danger Ahead!,” “Our Ecological Neighborhood,” and “Ideate and Create!” as well as to local challenges for each location.

Space Apps Nairobi was held at the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD)/SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa (E&SA) and sponsored by Amaq Investments. It took place on 29 and 30 April 2017, with 100 people forming 7 teams and engaging in 42 projects. Participants were from Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Kirinyaga University, Moringa School, United States International University, Change hub, Multimedia University of Kenya, and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. They received training on mapping tools and use of Esri Mapping Platforms.

 Team Maji Maji at Space Apps Nairobi
Team Maji Maji from Catholic University of Eastern Africa receives
their award as Global nominee #1 for a web application that aims
to save lives by providing crucial information before flooding occurs.  

RCMRD staff mentored the teams, and the Nairobi County Government served as a strategic partner for project acceleration and partnership. H.E. Jonathan Mueke, Deputy Governor of Nairobi County, lauded the Space Apps Challenge as “a unique engagement of great minds and young people to provide solutions for our challenges that are ever growing.” He added: “Local government planning, management, and operations provide fertile ground for new applications of remote sensing data and information, to influence policy, preparedness, and citizen-centric service delivery.”

Amaq’s Brian Amu commented: “We love to support and promote Earth observatory technology and innovation, especially with a focus in Africa. This is in line with our core values of innovation and inspiration of innovation and impacting new skills that can transform communities around us.”

The winning team at Space Apps Nairobi was Catholic University, with their flooding tool. The second-place team presented on a fire application (Fire-Fuego) from Multimedia University. People’s Choice was awarded to Tech20, with a web app that uses satellite and crowd-sourced data to provide real-time information on fluctuating water levels across the globe. The Nairobi County Executive for Information Communications Technology and Education, Youth, and Social Services presented certificates to the top teams.

Space Apps Kathmandu was hosted by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) -- home to SERVIR-Hindu Kush-Himalaya in Nepal -- and Mercy Corps Nepal. The Robotics Association of Nepal (RAN) and the Nepal Engineers’ Association were key national organizing partners, with Young Innovations Pvt Ltd and Kathmandu Living Labs supporting.

 Team Virtual Space Exploration at Space Apps Kathmandu
Team Virtual Space Exploration working hard on their Space Jockey app
(Credit: ICIMOD/Jitendra Raj Bajracharya)  

In its 5th year of participation, Space Apps Kathmandu ( attracted 65 engineers, students, and professionals (12 were women). These participants formed 18 groups to take on the global challenges set forth by NASA and the local challenges introduced by event organizers around irrigation and water supply systems, river shifting trend analysis, and early warning systems for creep landslides, alongside agricultural drought forecasting and flood hazard modeling.

Team Research Association for Interactive Technology (RAIT) captured top honors and a cash prize with their prototype that automates irrigation pumps in small and large fields by analyzing soil moisture data. Their prototype also uses Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) technology to provide updates on soil moisture and other statistics relevant to farmers. This project will find use in agriculture systems in Nepal and beyond.

A 'Space Jockey' app for virtual exploration of space from aboard an orbiting satellite won second prize. Team Innovators, an all-women’s team, won third prize for their Android application 'Food Cycle'. It connects people in need of food with establishments that have surplus edible food, and has an option to donate inedible food for compost. These two teams also won cash prizes and have been nominated for the Global nomination round.

Team First Attempt’s video addressing the global challenge on “Earth is cool” won the People's Choice Award and will vie for the International People's Choice Award.

Sushil Pandey, Knowledge Management and Communication Specialist at ICIMOD and a judge at the event, commented on the difficulty of selecting the winners from among the many excellent entries and further shared, "The Space Apps challenge provides a platform for youth, students, and young entrepreneurs to showcase new ideas and test them. Within a very short time frame, these events stimulate creativity and help develop problem-solving techniques.”

Eric Anderson of the SERVIR Science Coordination Office spoke at the inaugural Huntsville, Alabama, edition of Space Apps, at which 98 people worked together on 22 teams to take on challenges. He fully endorsed the Space Apps collaborative approach.

“We’re learning from hackathons like the Space Apps Challenge,” he noted. “In SERVIR we’re creating our own internal ‘codeathons’ with interdisciplinary teams, because we realize how effective it is to bring such teams together to focus intensely on designing solutions to challenging and complex projects.”


About 25,000 people took on the challenge worldwide as opposed to about 15,000 last year.

Huntsville event organizers were New Leaf Digital and The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Huntsville. Huntsville event Sponsors included

  • Intuitive Research
  • Huntsville STEAM Works
  • Crossflow Technologies
  • Aerodyne
  • Fancy Rockets
  • Media Fusion
  • Booz Allen Hamilton
  • Torch Technologies
  • i3

Related Articles