Nick Charlton

Space Apps Challenge 2013

A few weekends ago was the second NASA Space Apps Challenge, a hack day centred around building stuff related to space and worldwide collaboration. The last one was fantastic and this one also did not disappoint. This time around, we set around to continue working on Predict the Sky, but more of that in a bit.

For me, it worked out as a nice breather before the mad rush of finishing off my project (even though I did spend some time reviewing some code and adjusting a few things).

But, more interesting was seeing what other people were coming up with. As an offshoot of Growers Nation (er, pun not intended) we had an open hardware soil analyser, entitled “MudPi”, which is able to collect humidity, temperature, dew point & moisture and is designed to be placed in the soil somewhere. They were commended for being quite close to market. I’ll be interested to see what comes next out of it.

Next, was a collection of projects from mostly Plymouth University students entitled ArduHack that was focused around the ArduSat platform. This is an Arduino based CubeSat, which itself is a project with the aim to reduce the cost of getting satellites into space — to the point where groups of people, researchers (as in, not space ones) can do. Anyway, half of the team was focused upon attaching an earth orientated camera to the ArduSat, so that people would be able to photograph themselves from space; the key bit here was being able to photography themselves — people could essentially operate their own spy satellite for a moment in time.

The other half of the ArduSat project was about bringing some of the sensors “back down to earth”. Using a combination of a Magician Robot Kit, an Arduino, Raspberry Pi and a TI SensorTag Development Kit. The key bit is the last one, it includes an IR temperature sensor, a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, pressure sensor and a humidity sensor all of which are able to communicate over the Bluetooth Low Energy standard. From here, they used the Raspberry Pi to communicate with the SensorTag, to then control the Arduino which would drive the robot around.

Finally, the team behind WebRover1 where looking at expanding what a set of Lego Mindstorms based robots could do for outreach — getting young people interested in robotics and it’s related STEM subjects. They ended up with new control code and an easy to use front end which would work with most browsers (aimed a touch devices). Their project page gives a better explanation of the user interface design process.

There were several other interesting things by other groups there, too. And, the last two, ArduHack and WebRover1 are up for global judging.

A Continuation of Predict the Sky

A few weeks before the event, I’d emailed around asking to see if any of the old team were interested in spending the weeknd continuing on with Predict the Sky. My hope was to catch up with the work which was done at the Met Office’s Weather for Fun event last year (which I’d missed) and for us to work out where we’d take the project. Personally, I wanted a documented API that we could wave around at people and then from there work on the mobile applications and so forth that we had worked on at the first Space Apps Challenge.

And actually; that’s exactly what we did. Emma was around all weekend, Sophie was with the WebRover1 team (but we grabbed her on a few bits and pieces) and we were joined by a few more people.

In the end, we ended up assembling predictthesky.org, which will contain a description of what the project is all about, the people involved, the API documentation (there’s some examples at the moment, they need actually implementing) and eventually some cool projects that are using it.

We also looked at the way we were going about calculations and the data sources for certain objects. We’ll be using PyEphem for much of it and relying on Space Track for the object references (a project run under contract to the US Department of Defence). A few other data sources will be used for other objects, too.

The whole API will eventually be implemented using Flask and you can find the code (and source for the GitHub Pages based site) under the Predict the Sky Organisation.

My next steps after I finish University (rather soon, now) is to start on the code side, and also build out the documentation — especially for others to contribute who are new to the project.

In the mean time, if you’re interested, shout at me and I’ll make sure something is done about it.

But overall, another great event, one of hopefully many more to come.