Where do the innovators and disruptors of the space industry gather?

21 April 2016

Rod Burns

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As we prepare to once again host the London event of the world’s largest 48-hour hackathon, Rod Burns, Inmarsat Developer Program Community Manager, explains why NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge is the hub for new satellite-enabled applications.

We are really proud to be able to host the London Space Apps Challenge (23-24 April 2016) for the second year in a row. Last year was a big success and this year is going to be even bigger and better, with an expected 150 attendees.

Inmarsat is committed to working with innovators and disruptors from the space industry and beyond, and the Space Apps Challenge is the embodiment of developing new ideas quickly.

Teams across the globe will work together intensely over a 48-hour period to produce prototypes for the challenges set by NASA’s Open Innovation Initiative team. There are a range of themes that start on Earth, up to the International Space Station, and all the way to Mars so there will be some really interesting projects when the teams present on 24 April.


I experienced the Space Apps Challenge last year for the first time and it is thrilling to see people, who often have never met before, come up with ideas collaboratively and build a working prototype in just a weekend.

What is most interesting is how the projects that are developed relate to real world use cases. One of the stand-out projects for me showed a really interesting satellite imagery application that could be enabled by Inmarsat’s upcoming European Aviation Network and Global Xpress network to improve the passenger experience. Increased connectivity on board offered by these two services allows a wide range of applications to be made available to passengers, including this ‘moving map’ app with simulated weather, altitude and satellite imagery.

But it’s not just me who gets excited about the Space Apps Challenge, to find out what makes it special I asked some of the people who have lived and breathed it to share their thoughts.

Bringing space closer to Earth

Matt Thorne used to work at SpaceX writing complex software systems. Last year his team won the London Space Apps event after they presented a prototype of a solution to take ‘selfies’ of satellites and other spacecraft, allowing people on Earth to get a wider context and unique view of space.

“The scale of this challenge is huge and it’s great watching entries come together in real time from all over the world via social media. I truly believe that something of incredible importance will emerge from one of these events at some point. There’s this exciting feeling you get from being part of something of global significance like this,” said Matt.

“The clue to the value of the Space Apps Challenge is in the name; this is not a competition it’s a challenge that needs to be addressed. Unlike regular hackathon type events the mixture of skills is incredible at Space Apps and that’s where the value lies. In my team last year we had a concept artist, a special effects artist and a 3D modeller, as well as a software engineer. These skills complement each other in a far more harmonious and productive way than say, an entire team of software engineers. Space Apps Challenge is an absolutely thrilling experience!”

Making space entrepreneurs

Ben Noble attended the Space Apps Challenge in 2014 with some colleagues from PA Consulting, and his team won one of the global prizes for their project, giving him the opportunity to go and watch a NASA launch live in Florida. Last year he took on organising the event and gives us an idea of the impact that the event can have on real world projects.

“I think the biggest impact is the way that Space Apps Challenge projects can inspire others. When a Space Apps project tells the right story, it can inspire young entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, encourage others to get fit, such as the Great British Space Race, or motivate someone to learn a new field. They can offer a new solution to old problems, or re-purpose old solutions to newer challenges. They can impact on real-world projects in all these ways, or become real-world projects themselves if the team chooses to take their ideas forward. I’d love to see some of the teams from Space Apps London 2016 take their ideas to the market!”

We are looking forward to welcoming everyone to the Space Apps Challenge in our offices on 23-24 April, if you’d like to join us you can sign up here – hurry up though spaces are limited!

About the author

rupert bioRod joined Inmarsat in 2014 as Community Manager for the Inmarsat Developer Program to help build and grow a developer community around Inmarsat’s APIs and networks. Having worked in the mobile industry for over a decade Rod is passionate about helping developers build amazing things. He also organises technology focused Meetups in London as well as Football Hack Day, a day where software developers get together to build apps to enhance viewing and playing experiences for football.

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