4 mins read 01 May 2020

NASA, ESA, JAXA launch Covid-19 Space Apps Challenge

Three international space agencies have issued a new Space Apps challenge that looks at bringing global communities together to work towards solutions that can be applied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit: NASA Space Apps Challenge Organisation.

Entrepreneurs, coders, artists, scientists, designers, technologists and enthusiasts have all been invited to participate in a global, virtual hackathon at the end of May – hosted by three of the world’s leading space agencies: NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) to design and develop solutions that counter the Covid-19 pandemic.

Known as the Space Apps COVID-19Challenge, participants from around the world will join virtual teams that are required to design solutions, using Earth Observation data being made public.

Teams will battle it out in a 48-hour hackathon, studying the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and explore how the spread of the disease is having an impact on Earth’s systems – something that Earth Scientists from global space agencies have been focusing on since the pandemic started.

“There’s a tremendous need for our collective ingenuity right now,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “I can’t imagine a more worthy focus than COVID-19 on which to direct the energy and enthusiasm from around the world with the Space Apps Challenge that always generates such amazing solutions.”

The ESA, through the European Copernicus program, will contribute data from the Sentinel missions (Sentinal-1, Sentinel-2, and Sentinel-5P) with a focus on assessing the impact on climate change and greenhouse gases, as well as impacts on the economic sector. ESA also is contributing Earth Observation experts for the selection of competition winners and the artificial-intelligence-powered EuroDataCube.

“EuroDataCube will enable the best ideas to be scaled up to a global level,” said Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observations Programmes at ESA. “The pandemic crisis has a worldwide impact, therefore international cooperation and sharing of data and expertise with partners like NASA and JAXA seems the most suitable approach.”

Data from ALOS-2, GOSAT, GOSAT-2, GCOM-C, GCOM-W, and GPM/DPR from JAXA’s satellites will also be made available for the hackathon.

"JAXA welcomes the opportunity to be part of the hackathon,” said JAXA Vice President Terada Koji. “I believe the trilateral cooperation among ESA, NASA, and JAXA is important to demonstrate how Earth observation can support global efforts in combating this unprecedented challenge."

The COVID-19 challenge is the first virtual hackathon for the NASA Space Apps program – which has been running since 2012. In 2019, more than 29,000 participants at 225 events in 71 countries developed over 2,000 solutions over the course of the weekend.

In 2019, over 250 Australian participants were involved in the Space Apps challenge, with several Australian teams nominated as finalists in the global final lists. These included the following teams:

  • Planet Captain – developed a live monitoring web-based application that allows in-situ humanitarian workers the ability to make data-driven decisions to help at-risk temporary housing communities.
  • Aura – developed a real-time and forecasting monitoring tool that visualises the air-quality at the ‘cigarette dose scale’ and has the ability to integrate with the Alexa interface.
  • Ad Caelum – a citizen science application that allows users (through gamification) to review the sky above them at any time, finding out what satellites were above their region and what purpose those satellites perform.
  • Oceanth Generation – developed a fascinating concept to allow communication for people out at sea to keep connected with their loved ones on land.
  • Scitech – developed an immersive Virtual Reality (VR) game where users are required to rewild three real-world endangered ecosystems (mangroves, coral reefs, and rainforests) using NASA’s data.
  • Phatzeni (Toowoomba) – developed a platform called Solar Creation, which is an educative platform that allows users to make selections about various star properties and planet specifications to build their own solar system model.
  • Nada Ozone Miltons (Brisbane) – developed a centralised data hub that provides accurate and localised air-quality information, based on the team's developed algorithm that predicts the confidence level of data sources.
  • GLPN (Brisbane) – developed a fantastic tool that calculates the best place to look for resources on the Moon, combining data obtained from previous NASA missions and feedback from the scientific community on potential landing sites

The standard NASA Space Apps Challenge is scheduled to be held on 2-4 October 2020.

Find out more and register to join the Space Apps COVID-19 Challenge