Reno Hosts Successful Space Apps Challenge

NASA’s 2015 International Space Apps Challenge April 11-12 coincided with the 35th anniversary of the monster of all space-age hackathons:  the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight.  35 years ago, engineers on the ground labored desperately to make things on the wounded spacecraft do things they were never intended to do so the astronauts could be returned safely to Earth.

Most of the thousands of individuals worldwide participating this year’s Space Apps hackathon hadn’t even been born when the Apollo 13 crisis occurred, and their efforts didn’t have immediate life-or-death implications.  But they threw themselves enthusiastically into a variety of challenges, and collectively came up with some amazing solutions that can potentially improve life on earth and experiences in outer space.

The Reno Space Apps team—one of 133 around the globe—was split between two projects:

  • GEO (Geological Environment Observer) is a data-visualization device that uses meteorological input to emulate actual weather conditions–including lighting, visuals and sound–occurring at a remote location.
  • Biggest Little Solar System is a scale model of the solar system that can be deployed in Reno or elsewhere and–with some virtual- and augmented-reality enhancements–used for education and/or entertainment.

GEO:  A Sense of Home in Outer  Space

Using the open-source Tempescope ambient weather display as a model, the GEO group hacked together a functioning GEO device that simulates the sights and sounds of rain, lightning, wind, fog, clouds and light variations.  While the Tempescope was designed to display tomorrow’s predicted weather in your home today, a GEO in space would use real-time meteorological data from Earth to recreate the current weather conditions in an astronaut’s home town.

“The idea is to combat depression and anxiety astronauts may experience in long-distance space flight,” said Ashley Hennefer, the GEO team leader.  “Research has shown that ambient lighting and sound can contribute to psychological well-being, and there is evidence that connections to the Earth’s natural environment have a positive impact on astronauts in space.”

Turbulent Weather in the Geo

GEO displays turbulent weather

Using meterological data from NASA as input, the GEO can also function as an earthbound display of the climate conditions on other planets.  For example, the Reno Space Apps group experimented with making their prototype GEO display with weather conditions on Mars.

The GEO group found they couldn’t use the open-source Tempescope software, and had to develop the GEO code pretty much from scratch.  The results were impressive, but Hennefer said the sound system still needs work.  “We can start the sounds manually, but we still need to figure out how to get the GEO to automatically make the appropriate sounds when particular weather conditions—such as rain, wind and lightning—are displayed.”

Bringing Space Objects Down to Earth

While the GEO group is taking something from earth and manifesting it in space, the Biggest Little Solar System group is basically doing the opposite.  The BLSS team is building a scale model of the solar system that can be implemented on earth, using the Fleischmann Planetarium’s dome—a model of the sun—as a starting point.  At this scale, Earth is 3.5 inches in diameter and .65 miles away from the model sun, and the solar system is approximately 40 miles across.  Pluto’s orbit would go through Fernley.

Once the BLSS is implemented across a region, beacons on the model planets are picked up by mobile phones that come within range.  An augmented-reality app could show users their current position in the model solar system, and let them explore the particular object they have just reached.  A geocaching extension could be used to create an augmented-reality scavenger hunt.

“Such games could be combined with a host-a-planet program that would promote local businesses and non-profits,” said Joe Chavez, one of the BLSS team members.  “You adjust the scale of the BLSS so the planetary orbits go through certain key locations, where you place beacon-equipped models of the appropriate solar system objects.”

Solar System Project Gang at Work2015-04-12 15.41.32

BLSS team at work

The BLSS group took a modular approach, assigning different people to various parts of the project.  Collectively, the group is developing a web application, mobile apps for IoS and Android phones, an augmented-reality application, and an API that connects the BLSS to data from NASA and other public sources.

“As we got into the project, we found that the planetary-orbit data was scattered about and updated differently, and couldn’t be fed as is into the BLSS,” said Chavez.  “We had to build an API that can normalize the data so the model’s planets can be positioned appropriately.”

The group also struggled a bit with converting the Cartesian geography coordinates of space into Earth’s latitude-and-longitude positioning, and with addressing all the variables in the planetary orbits.  The elliptical patterns of the actual orbits in space are independent of each other, and are not all on one plane.

Now that the two-day hackathon is over, Reno and the other Space Apps Challenge teams around the world have a week to finish projects and submit them to NASA along with a 60-second video synopsis.  NASA will take several weeks to judge the entries, and is expected to announce the winners on May 11.

In its fourth year, the International Space Apps Challenge has grown into the world’s largest hackathon.  Part of NASA’s incubator innovation program, the Space Apps Challenge event provides a forum for a two-way technology transfer.  NASA technology and data can be commercialized or otherwise applied on Earth, while real-world problems NASA still faces are crowdsourced to Space Apps participants.





Reno taking unique approach in NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge

Local teams to tackle astronomy and meteorology problems in 2-day hackathon

RENO, Nev., April 10, 2015—Reno’s participants in NASA’s 2015 International Space Apps Challenge have come up with two unique astronomy and meteorology challenges to solve during the worldwide event this weekend, April 11-12.

In its fourth year, the Space Apps Challenge has evolved into the world’s largest hackathon, with 138 cities around the globe fielding teams in 2015.  NASA provides a list of suggested challenges—this year in the categories of Outer Space, Earth, Humans and Robotics.  Participants can also come up with their own projects, as the Reno group elected to do.

“Teams have only two days to solve challenges, so projects need to leverage local expertise, resources and interests,” said Reno Space Apps Challenge organizer Joe Chavez.  “Astronomy and meteorology are good fits for the Reno area with its high-desert vantage point for star gazing, great planetarium, and extreme weather variations.”

The Reno Space Apps Challenge group will split into two teams, with each focusing on one of the two challenges:  “Biggest Little Solar System” and “G.E.O.

Biggest Little Solar System is envisioned as an educational tool that uses a geocaching-meets-scavenger-hunt approach to engage people in the subject of astronomy.  Employing the Sun in the Fleishmann Planetarium as a scale model and reference, the team will place representations of the eight planets and Pluto around the region (locally, this model has Pluto orbiting through Fernley).  The team will also develop supporting technology that people can use to find the “planets.”

A beacon on each solar system member interacts with the mobile app, registering visitors who get close enough.  At the same time, the app taps data gathered during NASA’s space explorations to deliver the appropriate educational material.  The tool can be deployed in any region as a game, with an award going to the first person to travel through our entire solar system and visit all its major participants.

The second Reno Space Apps challenge, G.E.O., is based on the open source version of the Tempescope ambient weather display.  Contained in a clear box, a Tempescope receives meteorological forecasting data and simulates tomorrow’s weather conditions.

The original Tempescope was conceived as a home appliance displaying local weather forecasts.  However, a Tempescope fed the appropriate meteorological data could also display weather forecasts for remote locations, including other planets.

“In part, NASA is using the Space Apps Challenge to crowdsource problem-solving to the hackathon participants,” Chavez explains.  “NASA provides data and tools, and the hackathon participants bring fresh insights and capabilities to the problem-solving process.”

Space Apps Challenge teams include engineers, scientists, dreamers, designers, coders, makers, developers and storytellers.  Individuals who want to participate in the Reno Space Apps Challenge must first register directly with NASA at and then choose the Reno location.

Meeting details for the Reno group:

Saturday and Sunday, April 10 and 11
The Reno Collective
100 N. Arlington St., Suite 100
Reno, NV  89501

Reno Space Apps Challenge participants will benefit from The Reno Collective’s new very-high-speed fiber Internet connection, which was recently installed by Plumas-Sierra Telecommunications.


2015 Space Apps: The challenge list is out!

NASA has published the list of challenges that local teams from Reno and 137 other cities around the world get to choose from as they participate in the International Space Apps Challenge—the world’s largest hackathon—taking place Apr 10-12.

There are 35 challenges spread across this year’s four themes: Outer Space, Earth, Humans and Robotics. Each local team picks one or more challenges and tries to come up with the best solutions. The annual hackathon is part of a NASA initiative for sharing and commercializing knowledge gained through space exploration, but such technology transfers work both ways. While local teams may come up with commercially viable product ideas, NASA is also crowdsourcing some problem-solving that could lead to improvements in space travel and exploration.

If you are interested in contributing to the Space Apps Reno effort, check out the complete list of challenges at Teams need to pick challenges that are a good fit for local expertise and resources. Space Apps Reno organizer and past participant Joe Chavez said examples of the 2015 challenges that might be a good fit for Reno include:

  • Space-y Sounds. Develop an interactive tool that leverages NASA’s huge store of audio files containing all the expected and unexpected sounds recorded on space missions. Possible applications range from arts and entertainment to science and technology. The tool might even decode hidden meanings that NASA has missed.
  • SpaceGlove. Use wearable devices to come up with new techniques for controlling computer applications, including hand and arm gestures and voice inputs. The idea is to change the human-machine interface, and thus improve the way crews interact with computer systems during space missions.
  • Transient Watch. Develop a mobile phone app that provides astronomers with “daily news” on the most interesting current behaviors in the transient high-energy sky. The app will analyze publicly available data spread across such sources as NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japanese Space Agency, and provide a simple and visually pleasing front end that highlights the most active sources of x-ray and gamma-ray activity.

We will kick off the selection process by reviewing the challenges at Space Apps Reno’s organizational meeting, to be held Mar. 26 at 5 p.m. in the Fleischman Planetarium on the UNR campus. Then, actual challenge selections will be made and challenge-specific teams will begin to form at our Space Apps Reno mixer on Apr. 8. We will finalize these teams on the morning of Apr. 11, just prior to the beginning of the hackathon .

Both the Apr. 8 mixer and the two-day Space Apps Challenge hackathon Apr. 11-12 will take place at The Reno Collective, 100 N. Arlington, Suite 100 (corner of Arlington and First), Reno. The challenges can benefit from a broad range of skills, and are not just for programmers, engineers and scientists.

To join the Space Apps Reno effort and attend our organizational meeting, you must first register individually with NASA. Use the registration form at, and select Reno as your location.

Space Apps Reno 2015


  1. Click on the link below and type Reno in the search box.
  2. Sign in or create an account
    1. New accounts will need to be verified via e-mail link before selecting the Reno location
  3. Select Reno as your location

Quick Facts

NASA International Space Apps Challenge

  • March  26 – Space Apps Preview
  • April 8th – Mixer and Team Formation
  • April 11th & 12th – Hacking for Space

And now a word from our sponsors…

Space Apps Reno 2014


A huge THANK YOU and SHOUTOUT to Space Apps Reno 2014 Sponsors!

A special thank you to Microsoft Licensing in Reno for their cooperation and support of Space Apps Reno!

Attend Space Apps Reno and Win a Pebble Smartwatch!

Sign-up for this event here

Pebble has provide the Reno Space Apps team with 15 Pebble watches for use in the event. Here are a couple of challenges to consider:

Attend Space Apps Reno for a chance to win one of two first generation Pebble watches. 

Pebble Technology, Inc. is a Space Apps Reno Sponsor

Space Apps Reno is proud to welcome Pebble Technology, Inc. as a Space Apps Reno sponsor.

pebblewatch-icon“TECHNOLOGY THAT MAKES YOUR LIFE BETTER. Pebble puts critical apps and notifications on your wrist, giving you immediate access to what’s most important”.

Space Apps Reno is part of the global hackathon that is organized by NASA as part of the International Space Apps Challenge. In April 2014 the City of Reno will once again participate in this event as one of 80+ host cities from around the planet. Help NASA solve some it’s most intriguing earth and space technology challenges ranging from big data analysis to hacking on the Internet of Things. Also, we welcome any contributions from local businesses and agencies to help sponsor the individuals who will participate in this weekend long event.  The event will be held on April 12-13, 2014. Sign-up for this event will be available in early March.

Contact us via the form below for more information and to sponsor this great event.

Get the Quick Facts on Space Apps 2014

Attend Space Apps Reno and Win a Sensordrone!

Perfect hardware device for the Cool It! challenge:

This challenge is about bringing together hardware builders, coders, engineers, social scientists, teachers, and community members. Create a sensor kit to measure temperature and relative humidity in several locations in real time. Or, create a real-time micronet of sensor kits and use their data to understand local environmental conditions. This data could even be used to educate the community about the urban heat island effect, weather, and climate.

One Sensordrone will be given away to challenge participants in Reno, NV.

Sign-up for this event here

sensorcon_logo-whiteSensorcon Makes Mobile And Wearable Computing Devices For Environmental Monitoring. Whether You’re A Hobbyist, Professional, Fire Department, Adventurous Or Just Curious, We Help Everybody Monitor Their World!

Space Apps Reno will have the Sensordrone on site for use in the event.  Sensordrone, “Turns Your Smartphone Into A Carbon Monoxide Detector, Non-Contact Thermometer, Gas Leak Detector, Lux Meter, Weather Station, Diagnostic Tool, Breath Analyzer, & More…Much, Much, More!”

More about

Space Apps Reno is part of the global hackathon that is organized by NASA as part of the International Space Apps Challenge. In April 2014 the City of Reno will once again participate in this event as one of 80+ host cities from around the planet. Help NASA solve some it’s most intriguing earth and space technology challenges ranging from big data analysis to hacking on the Internet of Things. Also, we welcome any contributions from local businesses and agencies to help sponsor the individuals who will participate in this weekend long event.  The event will be held on April 12-13, 2014. Sign-up for this event here

Get the Quick Facts on Space Apps 2014