Last modified on March 12th, 2020 at 12:24 am

How NASA Space Apps Work

What is it?

Since 2012, one weekend every year NASA launches it’s very own International Space Apps Challenge. This challenge was designed to engage thousands of citizens worldwide. People are to use the open-source data of NASA for a 48-hour dash, to design game-changing solutions for the challenges our planet is facing.

In an attempt to support and provide for a beautiful and sustainable planet for generations to come, NASA encourages critical thinkers and problem solvers to take part in this global hackathon. Local communities are encouraged to come together and conceptualize a solution for the most pressing problems of Earth.

Space Apps History (Source: 2019 Event Planning Kit)

DATE 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
No. Of Locations 25 83 95 133 161 187 200
No. Of Participants 2,000 9,000 8,200 13,000 16,000 25,000 18,000
No. Of Countries 44 47 69 75

Mechanics of the Challenge (Source:

Everyone is encouraged and welcome to participate in this event regardless of background.

It is a global event coordinated by NASA with different locations that are independently organized.

Order of Events

● Registration & Logistics Briefing/Welcome – Registration is done individually.

● Speed Networking Session

● Form challenge teams & start work

● Progress Briefings

● Presentations to the Judges

● Awards Ceremony

Despite the name, solutions to challenges could have many forms. Some examples are

● Visualizations/simulations of space/scientific principles of data

● Interactive Maps

● Tools that utilize NASA data sets

● Software tools to transmit data for specific tasks

● Payload designs for launching

● Open-source libraries/tools

● Tools utilizing social media and/or mobile devices for scientific/public good

● Apps that give information based on a user’s location or connect the user with other users while illustrating a space/science principal

● Games that inform about space/science

● Designs for potential future missions (i.e. orbits, landing sites, robots)

● Modeling solutions using NASA data sets

● Patterns identified in NASA data sets

● Ideas to make living in space better/easier

● Ideas for connecting the public with what is going on in space/science

● Anything the solvers can think of!

When and Where (source:

Space Apps 2019 will be held at various locations on the weekend of October 18-20, 2019. Some locations hold pre-event meetups in the period leading up to the Space Apps weekend so that participants can meet one another and learn valuable skills.

You may contact the Global Organizing Team at [email protected].

If you’re unable to find a physical location near you, you may register through the Space Apps Virtual Event. This will allow you to collaborate with any of the other Virtual Event attendees, form teams and create projects that answer this year’s challenges. You will be able to chat virtually with NASA experts during hackathon weekend, and you’ll be eligible for global judging by NASA just like anyone at a physical Space Apps location.

Locations start signing up in the fall before the event. Registration by participants, and publication of the challenges occur in the early to mid-March time frame.  Each location nominates two teams for global judging and one additional team for global People’s Choice. Teams are also selected from the virtual projects to go on to global judging. To be eligible for global judging, teams must create a short video explaining their project (length has varied across the years).

What Usually Happens During Space Apps Challenge Weekend (Source: 2019 NASA Space Apps Challenge)

1.   Planning Kit. They provide a kit that was designed to guide and support the people who desire to coordinate an International Space App Challenge in their city.

2.   Optional Data Bootcamp. Once local organizers have completed and followed all that is indicated in the Planning Kit,  they can provide an optional Data Bootcamp.

Pre-Event Meetup, ranging from short meetups that require minimal effort, to longer ones that require significant effort to plan and facilitate:

  • 1-2 hour event to bring participants together before the hackathon to allow the first time and returning participants to connect before the weekend.
  • 2-4 hour event to discuss challenges and/or hear from guest speakers to inform participants as to what to expect at Space Apps.
  • A day-long Data Bootcamp to inspire participants and help ease participation for newcomers, and to provide an introduction to data use and hackathon skills.

3.   Day 1. Venue opens. Participants arrive, register and form teams.

4.   Day 2. Teams continue to work, and then prepare to present their solutions.

Judging And Award (source:

Judging will take place at every local event (including the “virtual” locations), as well as at a global level. Although they provide standard judging criteria to each local lead, the judging process at each location is at the discretion of the local lead. In most cases, the organizer of each event will convene a judging panel after the two-day hackathon and the panel will identify the top solutions. The local lead will then nominate two solutions for global recognition.

A panel of judges consisting of representatives from NASA and other governmental and non-governmental organizations will evaluate the top solutions nominated by the local leads and select the best in class in the following categories:

● Best Use of Data – The solution that best makes space data accessible or leverages it to a unique purpose/application.

● Best Use of Hardware – The solution that exemplifies the most innovative use of hardware.

● Galactic Impact – The solution that has the most potential to significantly improve life on Earth or in the universe.

● Most Inspiring – The solution that captured our hearts and attention.

In addition to the top four best in class awards, there will also be an award for the solution that has the most public votes. The People’s Choice award will be determined from a public voting process facilitated through the website.

● People’s Choice – Determined from a public voting process facilitated through the website.

Challenge Accepted

More than the prize and honor one would get by joining and winning this event, the fact that you get to contribute to the welfare of our world it is more than enough reason to participate.

If you’ve read this far, it means that you are interested, and you believe that you have what it takes to provide the solutions this world badly needs. You may start observing this year’s event so that for next year’s challenge you’ll be pumped and ready.

To a beautiful planet! Cheers!