A smartphone app that warns about incoming meteors is just one practical application that could be developed this weekend.
Two Canadian cities are playing host to scores of space-minded hackers in a 48-hour international programming event billed as the largest of its kind.
It’s known as the NASA International Space Apps Challenge, and Toronto and Winnipeg are among the 80 cities around the world bringing together 8,000 scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.
Participants from 41 countries will form teams and work on developing software that could be used in everything from games to tools that help farmers.
They will be assisted by data collected from NASA’s spacecraft.
“They’re giving us access to all the data that they produce from all of their spacecraft everywhere,” Jonathan Moneta, one of the organizers of the Toronto event, said Friday.
The teams are made up of software developers from Toronto web-development houses and aerospace companies, as well as scientists, researchers and independent developers.
Hackathons are described as technology-development marathons where teams work intensively together and in competition.
Moneta said the space-apps challenge is the largest hackathon in world history, and that the possibilities are endless.
“Developers will try to build applications like mobile apps that allow you to spot a satellite, understand more advanced weather patterns and know when the next meteor might pass by the Earth,” Moneta said.
He noted that the weekend hackers will even get access to some top Canadian expertise.
That comes in the form of about 20 mentors — engineers who have worked on two Canadian robots, Canadarm2 and DEXTRE, currently deployed on the International Space Station.
The Toronto event will be held at the Royal Ontario Museum and Moneta said he expects about 200 participants. Moneta has also set up a kids’ program for “nine and 10-year-old” future engineers.
The Winnipeg Space Apps Challenge is being held at the University of Manitoba.
Dario Schor, a computer engineer, said his smaller group of about 25 will focus on designing hardware for a research satellite for an upcoming mission to Mars.
“We’re trying to develop new technologies for nanosatellites,” he said. “Those are very small satellites that are usually under 10 kilograms in mass.”
This weekend’s event is NASA’s second annual International Space Apps challenge.
On its website, the U.S. space agency describes it as “an event in which citizens from all over the world join forces to solve challenges designed to improve life on Earth and in space.”