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Dal scientists host 48-hour NASA 'hackathon'

This weekend, Dalhousie University plays host to the first ever Atlantic Canada NASA Space Apps hackathon challenge
(stock photo)

This weekend, Dalhousie University plays host to the first ever Atlantic Canada NASA Space Apps hackathon challenge.

The challenge, which began Saturday and wraps up at 3:00 p.m. Sunday, brings together coders, designers and builders from across Atlantic Canada to try solve problems and streamline NASA's data processing.

"As the name implies, it really revolves around a lot of space applications," says Arad Gharagozli, president of Dalhousie's Space Systems Lab.

Gharagozli says that data collected by NASA's satellites is overwhelming to process, and one of the goals of the competition is to find a way to sort it.

"They gather a lot of data that comes back to Earth, terabytes and terabytes of data," he explains. "So, governments and all the agencies are always looking for more efficient ways of going through this data."

Last year, over 18,000 people participated in Space Apps from 200 cities around the world. But this is the first time that Dalhousie has hosted the challenge.

"The event itself I assume will be a very interesting 48 hours. A lot of people will sleep there overnight, and basically once we kickstart this morning, it will not stop until tomorrow at 3:00 p.m.," Gharagozli tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

On Friday nights, participants came together to meet and mingle and form their teams.

"It's open to students, experts from the industry, anyone can participate," adds Gharagozli. "Usually teams of four to six people."

The teams have the choice trying to solve a challenge developed by NASA, or one created by the Canadian Space Agency.

"The Canadian Space Agency has seven different challenges, NASA has 24 challenges," explains Gharagozli. "I personally really advocate for the Canadian Space Agency content because it's our Canadian stuff so it's really good to put some resources into that."

Many of the challenges are centred around data analysis and finding more efficient ways to process it. For example, the Canadian Space Agency's challenge involving the NEOSSat satellite.

"People are going to go through a lot of images that have been taken by the satellite over the past several years and try to find very specific criteria for asteroids," says Gharagozli. "But you're dealing with a lot of data so that's not something a person can sit and look at the pictures."

Four Dalhousie groups have come together to host the competition, including ShiftKey Labs, the Emera IdeaHub, Dalhousie Space Systems, and SuperNOVA.

Gharagozli says are also several corporate sponsors who will be in attendance to take the ideas from Space Apps to the next level.

"Our highest priority is just to create a networking environment," explains the scientist. "What we like to do is bring a lot of industry support and a lot of the education side of things and try to connect people."

If any of the projects created this weekend are successful, there's a chance they could be picked up and produced on a mass-scale.

"There is the possibility of a lot of good products coming out of these," Gharagozli adds. "If this is a product that has any viable potential of becoming something bigger, then we can support that."

Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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