The International Space Apps Challenge 2014


The International Space Apps Challenge, now in its third year running, is an international mass collaboration focused on space exploration that takes place over 48-hours in cities around the world. The event, which takes the form of a *hackathon, embraces collaborative problem solving with the goal of producing relevant open-source solutions to address global needs applicable to both life on earth and in space.

Participants from 94 locations around the world and online took part in the 2014 edition of the event from 11th to 12th April.  This year’s 65 challenges were aligned with NASA’s missions along five themes: Earth Watch, Technology in Space, Human Spaceflight, Robotics and Asteroids. Space Apps is part of NASA’s Open Innovation Program, which includes open data and open government. NASA is leading this global collaboration along with a number of government collaborators and 100+ local organisations.

The thing that differentiates Space Apps from other challenges is that it emphasizes collaboration to work on challenges together. It allows people to solve problems online and then work together, face-to-face, to build solutions and relationships that will last.

The scale of Space Apps is huge. This is the largest international codeathon event we know of cross the world.

Local judging process

Local judging took place under the direction of the local hosts, mLab Southern Africa in collaboration with Vodacom SA, who set out the various judging categories and processes. One project in each of the following categories advanced to the global judging round:

  • Best data usage
  • Galactic Impact

In addition, the people’s choice winners Team SpaceME advanced to the global judging round, for the 2014 People’s Choice Award. The local nominations that advanced to the global judging round were required to provide a 30-second video within one week of the event to be used in the global judging process.

Local prize – South Africa

The local judges Dr Henry Throop and Mandla Maseko selected 2 projects to advance to the Global Judging Round and each winning team received a R5 000 grand prize.

The grand prize was awarded on successful submission of the project for the global round and the publishing of the project. Winning teams were required to make their project publicly available e.g. Apps must be available on a public app store. The winning teams selected included Team Wetland Trackr for the Galactical Impact category, Team Earth Quiz for the Best Use of Data and Team SpaceME, which received the People’s Choice Award.

Global judging

In the global judging round, a panel of experienced NASA judges selected winners from each of the five finalist categories based on the following criteria: impact, creativity, product, sustainability, and presentation. The judges reviewed the finalists based on a short project description, a 30-second video and project page links. All codes developed during the event weekend are now open sources.

Click here to view all the finalists and winners

The winners of the global judging round will be eligible to attend the September 2014 Space X Dragon launch to send supplies to the International Space Station. The winners, together with one guest, will be required to pay their own expenses. However, NASA will supply transportation to and from the launch site, as well as give winners the opportunity to tour the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, USA.

People’s Choice

The public was given the chance to vote for their favourites via social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. NASA’s Space Apps team totaled the results from social media votes in order to determine the winning team. Team Space Helmet from New Factory in Finland was announced the 2014 People’s Choice Winner. Local winners, Team SpaceME, were part of the 20 global finalists who competed for first prize.

Guest judges and speakers

The Intergalactic judges were tasked with the role of not only judging the Space Apps solutions, but also motivating the participants to continue pursuing their dreams in space science development.

Dr Henry Throop, PhD

  • Planetary Science Institute, USA
  • University of Pretoria

Dr Henry Throop is a Senior Scientist with the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, USA, and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Pretoria.

Mandla Maseko

  • First black “Afronaut”

Mandla Maseko, a 25-year-old civil engineering student, is set to become the first black African to go into space.

mLab Empowers

mLab Southern Africa is at the forefront of open innovation, particularly amongst the youth from disadvantaged communities. The high level of youth unemployment continues to be a problem in South Africa, which is why mLab Southern Africa, together with its partners, are committed to mentoring and supporting existing and upcoming entrepreneurs wanting to develop mobile technology solutions that will assist in the overall social development of South Africa.

Many of the Space Apps Challenges participants come from humble backgrounds and yet have risen above their challenges to display their real potential and make their communities and country proud.

Note: The following information can either be placed on the “What’s App” page, or may be set up as information on its own pages which web visitors can link to.

* Hackathons

A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.

Hackathons provide a venue for self-expression and creativity through technology thus contributing to development of a country or region.  Hackathons bring together people with technical backgrounds and an interest in best in science and technology to participate over a specified period.

Participants come together and use technology to transform their creative ideas into reality in the form of websites, mobile apps, and robots.


The importance of investing in Science and Technology 

Scientific discoveries and the associated development of new technologies are key long-term drivers of economic growth and development. Innovation, technology mastery and the diffusion of knowledge and new products and services into markets are key elements in this growth and result in sustainable improvements in the quality of life of all South Africans.”- Department of Science and Technology

“The Innovation Hub as a leading African science and technology park is home to the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and mLab Southern Africa. The recently held International Space Apps Challenge is a great example of collaboration between residents of The Innovation Hub, and development of innovations that offer entrepreneurial and commercial opportunities for the tech community”, says McLean Sibanda, CEO of the Innovation Hub. “Young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are overcoming their odds and positively contributing to the empowerment of our country through science and technology, which increases our global competitiveness and standing, and promotes growth.”

“The Department of Science and Technology continues to support mLab Southern Africa with a view to stimulate and grow a mobile innovation system through enabling entrepreneurship in the mobile industry and developing mobile applications relevant to South African challenges. mLab Southern Africa also supports the Department’s vision of ensuring a South Africa with digital advantage through the implementation of its 10 year ICT Research, Development and Innovation Roadmap,” says Jeanette Morwane, Director: ICT & Service Industry at the Department of Science and Technology.


Winning teams

Galactical Impact

Team Wetland Trackr

This project is aimed at solving the “Track That Wetland” challenge. It allows citizen scientists to observe plant communities within and outside of wetlands and delineate their boundaries, and evaluate wetlands to validate or calibrate satellite data. The app will guide people to locate the edge of a wetland and upload the coordinates for a point at this edge, perhaps with photographs and additional information. These points could then be used to validate or calibrate high-resolution remote sensing products for wetlands.

More here

Best Use of Data

Team Earth Quiz

This project solves the “Where on Earth” challenge.  Team Earth Quiz developed an app in the form of a game that has different categories such as – natural, manmade and changes to the planet. It is available in different levels – easy, intermediate and advanced – with different themes addressing questions such as: what is happening here, where the image is taken, which prominent feature you are looking at, and so forth. Some of the sections are locations, geology, weather, change detection, land use, and some other random questions. After the player answers a question, the app gives a brief explanation about the image (with the source of the image). For every correct answer, points are awarded depending on the level. The game includes an option to share user scores on social media and invites others to play. Users can jump to different levels in the game at any point in time without losing any points.

More Here

People’s Choice

Team SpaceME

Team SpaceME developed a solution to the “Space Mission Roadmap” challenge. SpaceME is a simple but exciting game where the player ventures into space to discover whether there is possibility of life out there. The aim is to have people from all over the world participate and contribute to the project with creative ideas on how to find out the possibilities of life beyond earth. Players can also contribute by creating a unique spaceship as a character in the game.

More Here

Meet the winners here

The importance of our partners

“We truly value and appreciate our partners who have continuously shared our vision of growing science and technology development in South Africa,” says Derrick

Kotze, CEO of mLab Southern Africa.