How We Crowdsourced NASA’s Newest Mobile App Design

Space exploration captivates humanity’s imagination.  The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has consistently embraced open innovation to enhance public engagement and awareness. Ensemble and Topcoder launched a series of challenges on behalf of NASA with the goal of modernizing NASA’s Spot the Station (STS) service. The service notifies users when the International Space Station flies overhead. Currently, this information is delivered via website, but NASA aims to launch a new Spot the Station (STS) Mobile App, in the coming weeks. This blog will cover the UI challenges, the innovative approach of leveraging crowdsourcing, and the app’s cutting-edge features.

Ensemble was tasked with transitioning the existing Spot the Station (STS) web service into a modern native mobile app available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. With a substantial monthly user base of over half a million enthusiasts, the STS service has already made its mark. The transition to a mobile app aims to enhance accessibility and engagement. Key features include 2D and 3D real-time mapping, augmented reality compass view, internationalization, push notifications when ISS is approaching your location, and direct access to NASA’s latest ISS blogs.  

Home Page User Interface Design


Harnessing Topcoder’s crowd to attain UX Excellence

The partnership between Ensemble and Topcoder signifies a shift toward crowd-driven innovation. With over 1.6 million members, Topcoder’s community of UX/UI designers, software developers, and data scientists is well-suited to meet the app’s complex design requirements. The project commenced with an Open Innovation Contest model, leveraging the competitive edge of the Topcoder Design community. This approach ensured top-notch UI designs that create an intuitive and visually appealing interface. The chosen designs, aligned with product specifications, are being integrated by Ensemble to bring the STS Mobile App to life.

The entire interface was broken into smaller manageable screens and components using problem decomposition techniques. Then multiple UI challenges were implemented to crowdsource high quality designs, undergo revisions, and collect feedback from NASA stakeholders. 

Making Vision a Reality

The STS Mobile App’s technical approach involves systematic phases aimed at materializing NASA’s vision. The app’s core function revolves around predicting ISS visibility and notifying users of upcoming sightings. By utilizing an orbit propagation library, the app calculates a 5-day orbit path forecast of the ISS on users’ devices. The user interface offers helpful tools such as a compass-like UI, augmented reality-enabled sky view, and real-time global ISS location tracking. Furthermore, the app seamlessly integrates with NASA’s resources, providing current information on expeditions and developments.

A New Chapter in Space Engagement

The NASA STS Mobile App project introduces an innovative approach to public engagement and education giving users the ability to view the ISS at their fingertips. Through the power of crowdsourcing with Topcoder’s community, Ensemble tapped into global design talent to create a user experience that captures the interest of space enthusiasts. With the app’s impending launch, users worldwide will gain a firsthand experience of the ISS’s orbiting journey, deepening their connection with space and igniting curiosity for future generations. These Challenges helped open the door to a new era of innovation in space exploration and public engagement, where technology and imagination work hand in hand. Stay tuned for the STS mobile app coming soon! 

Topcoder Challenge Links

NASA STS Mobile App Design Part-1 Challenge

NASA STS Mobile App Design Part-2 Challenge

NASA STS Mobile App Design Part-3 Challenge

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