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SA’s space agency readies virtual hackathon

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The South African National Space Agency (SANSA) will host a virtual hackathon over the coming weekend − 25 and 26 June.

SANSA is an entity of the Department of Science and Innovation responsible for promoting the country’s research in space science and strengthening cooperation in space-related activities.

The hackathon, which will be hosted in partnership with the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, is aimed at determining mitigating measures for the threats posed by space weather to the country’s satellite infrastructure.

SANSA says societies have become increasingly reliant on satellite infrastructure, using it for navigation, communications and weather prediction. Therefore, if the infrastructure were to fail, almost every aspect of people’s lives would be affected.

Some of the areas that would be affected by satellite failure include grounded flights, non-functioning GPS satellites timestamps, satellite TV and radio would disappear, and broadband connectivity and international phone calls would also become impossible.

The agency notes that space weather has been recognised as a global challenge impacting satellite infrastructure, which is why the hackathon will focus on this particular issue.

“The chances of all our satellites going offline all at once seem unlikely, but there is one phenomenon posing such a threat. Space weather is driven by activity on the sun and if a solar flare or coronal mass ejection hits the earth, it could have a devastating impact on our satellites.”

Hackathons have emerged as powerful mechanisms to surface co-created, technology-enabled innovation to tackle specific business and social challenges.

In SA, these hack fests have also gained considerable ground in recent years, with a number of organisations hosting them to find solutions to address some of today’s challenges.

According to SANSA, there are cash prizes up for grabs, with the first prize of R5 000, a second prize of R2 500 and third prize of R1 250.

In addition, the winning team will win a sponsored, two-day tour of the Western Cape’s top space facilities, including the SANSA Hermanus campus, with flights and accommodation included.

SANSA MD Dr Lee-Anne McKinnell describes the upcoming hackathon as an important intervention in the quest to manage the global challenge of space weather. “This event will demonstrate how innovation and teamwork can result in applicable solutions. We encourage collaboration as a way of tapping into the potential of South Africa’s role in mitigating the effects of this global problem.”

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