World Space Week 2014, the global celebration of all things space, chose the theme “Space: Guiding the Way” to raise awareness of the role satellite navigation systems play in our lives. In honor of World Space Week, here's a collection of GPS-enabled amateur space exploration projects you can join. Track balloons flying into Near Space; crowdsource aurora, weather, and cosmic ray data; or create your own GPS apps for Nasa.
GPS is essential for the space makers who send weather balloons into Near Space. As the balloon rises 30 kilometers into the stratosphere, winds change speeds and direction making it impossible to predict where the balloon will parachute back to Earth.
Scientists hope you’ll use your smartphone's GPS for science. They’ve written apps that crowdsource observations from the public and map the results based on GPS location.
- Deco, the Distributed Electronic Cosmic-ray Observatory, uses the smartphone’s camera to detect muon showers created when cosmic ray particles smash into the upper atmosphere. Scientists use maps of the muon impacts to reconstruct the original particles. Right now it’s only available as a side load for Android smartphones, but an iOS app is in the works. (See my articles about public cosmic ray observatories in Indiana and the Netherlands for more information)
- Aurorasaurus crowdsources aurora reports from the public in order to improve space weather forecasts. The app and the website detect your position via your smartphone’s GPS. The crowdsourced data will let the project’s scientists build better space weather forecasts.
- The British Geologic Survey crowdsources images through its BGS Crowdmap. Smartphone owners can use the Ushahidi app to upload images. All images go into the BGS archives which already contain over 500,000 images. BGS scientists use images of floods and landslides to improve disaster response and preparedness.
- The BGS also created MySoil, an app that maps soil conditions around Europe and lets you submit your own soil reports. Gardners, farmers, and environmentalists rely on soil reports to understand the health of the ground beneath our feet.
- mPing, an app from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, crowdsources public reports of rain, snow, and flooding. Noaa scientists will use the reports to make weather radar see better and to improve flash flood predictions.
- Help improve the quality of satellite observations with SatCam. Thanks to your phone’s GPS, the app lets you know when an earth observation satellite passes overhead. Take a picture of the sky and your surroundings. The app adds GPS data and sends the pictures to the University of Wisconsin. Scientists compare your ground truth - what clouds are really in the sky - to the data returned by satellites.
- Weather Signal turns your smartphone into a portable weather station. It combines data from the phone’s temperature and pressure sensors with GPS location data to create a crowdsourced map of the weather.
- Nasa’s Meteor Counter crowdsources reports of meteor showers and fireballs so scientists can protect satellites and space stations from micrometeoroid impacts. Australia’s Fireballs in the Sky app crowdsources reports on the brightest meteors in hopes of finding fragments that survived its fiery descent to Earth.
Want to learn how to create your own location based app? Take a look at these resources:
- GPS: An Introduction to Satellite Navigation (Coursera) - Taught by Stanford University professors Per Enge and Frank van Diggelen, this 6-week course teaches the basics of satellite navigation and how to do backyard GPS experiments. (Starts Oct 2014)
- From GPS and Google Maps to Spatial Computing (Coursera) - Taught by University of Minnesota professors Brent Hecht and Shashi Shekhar, this 8-week course teaches how GPS and Google Maps work and how to build apps using mapping data. (Started Sep 2014)
- Nasa sponsors the annual International Space Apps Challenge every April. Coders around the world have 2 days to create apps using the space agency’s API’s and data archives. More than 8100 people took part in the 2014 Challenge. Canadian coders created SkyWatch a web-based app that uses your location to send you reports of supernovae and other important astronomical events. British coders created SkySnapper which combines your location with pictures of the sky to measure air pollution. Another British team created Android Base Station which converts a smartphone into a satellite hotspot.