Telescope Schedules – NASA’s Space Apps Challenge

screenshotLast week, I took part in NASA’s space apps challenge – an international hackathon that took place over 48 hours in 83 countries around the world. Over 9000 people took part and with over 50 challenges to choose from it was great fun. I’ve not taken part in a hackathon before and although I was unable to attend an event in person (the nearest event to me was either York or Leicester. There were also events in London, Exeter and Glasgow) I still had a great time using technologies I’ve not used before.

The challenges ranged from deployable greenhouses on Mars to exploration of the dark side of the Moon. As I was working alone, I decided on the My Space Cal challenge. This involved querying various sources of scheduling data for space based telescopes and collating it into a calendar that scientists and researchers could use to plan space observations using the various telescopes.

The data gathering process was more laborious than I had expected as each telescope presented its data in different formats. Some had websites that could be scraped, some had CSV files I could download, and some had data in such a random format, it was almost impossible to parse the fields I needed. This process of building scraping scripts took most of the first day, along with creating a DB schema to hold all the scheduling data.

On the second day I got my hands dirty with the D3 JavaScript library – something I had been looking for a use for for a while. Rather than just building a simple calendar I thought it would be more useful to created a timeline of events so it was easy to compare different telescopes at the same time.

Although I spent a good amount of time working on it, I didn’t manage to get all the features built into it that I would have liked in the 48 hours. I wanted to be able to add filters for target names and wavelengths as well as a cron job that could retrive data automatically each day. Also some telescope data is missing such as for the Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra telescopes. I plan on working on this some more in the future as I think it would be a really useful tool for professional astronomers to use.

You can check out the Telescope Schedules application (works best in chrome) – the source code is available over at github.


I received an honourable mention for my application at the awards for virtual participation. Very happy with that!

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