Spot the Station Mobile App: Advancing ISS Observations with Crowdsourced Software Development

In an exciting development for space enthusiasts, NASA hired Ensemble as a prime contractor via the NASA Open Innovation Services 2 (NOIS2) IDIQ contract to design, develop, and launch a state-of-the-art mobile application to continuously track and visualize the location of the International Space Station (ISS).

As experts in crowd curation and digital transformation, Ensemble enlisted the support of an open talent design and development platform Topcoder, and freelancing platform Upwork, to enhance the Spot the Station (STS) service into a state-of-the-art mobile app. This initiative, aimed at improving public engagement and raising awareness about the International Space Station, leveraged the power of crowdsourcing to deliver an innovative, user-friendly experience. The new Spot the Station app is designed to captivate and inspire a global audience, making ISS line-of-sight observations more accessible than ever before.

The Opportunity: Understanding the Spot the Station Service for the International Space Station 

The primary goal of the Spot the Station app is to provide users with easy and convenient access to information about International Space Station (ISS) sightings.  The ISS represents an international partnership of five space agencies from 15 countries. The ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and an international crew of seven (or more) people live and work while traveling at a speed of five miles per second, orbiting Earth about every 90 minutes. In 24 hours, the space station makes 16 orbits of Earth, traveling through 16 sunrises and sunsets. People around the world can often watch the ISS pass overhead. It is the third brightest object in the sky and easy to spot if you know when to look up. 

By adding a mobile app experience, NASA has made it simpler for users to track the ISS in real-time, receive notifications about upcoming sightings, and engage with the latest content from ISS news and events such as upcoming crewed missions.


Key Features of the App

The Spot the Station app is equipped with many useful and innovative features including:

    • Real-time 2d & 3D Mapping: Users can view the current location of the ISS on a real-time map, helping them understand its orbit and predict when it will be visible from their location.
    • Augmented Reality (AR) Compass View: This innovative feature uses augmented reality to provide a compass view, making it easier to locate the ISS in the night sky.
    • Push Notifications for Upcoming Sightings: The app sends timely notifications to users about upcoming ISS sightings, ensuring they never miss an opportunity to observe the station.
    • Live Stream: Access a livestream view of the ISS looking downwards to Earth. 
    • Access to NASA Blogs: Users can directly access the latest blogs and updates from NASA, staying informed about space missions, scientific discoveries, and more.
    • Multi-Language Support: As the ISS is a truly international initiative with a global following, multi-language support was paramount.  The app currently supports the following languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, Japanese, Hindi, Ukrainian, 

Development Through Crowdsourcing

The development of the Spot the Station app is a testament to the power of crowdsourcing. Ensemble and Topcoder, organized a series of challenges that invited developers and designers from around the world to contribute their expertise. This collaborative effort resulted in the refinement of features and optimization of usability, culminating in an app that is both functional and engaging. The project was divided into a series of smaller challenges, each focusing on specific aspects of the app, such as user interface design, backend development, and feature integration. This decomposition made it easier to manage and allowed different specialists to focus on areas where they had the most expertise. Each challenge was an opportunity for participants to contribute their unique skills and perspectives. The iterative nature of the competitions ensured that the best ideas were continually refined and improved upon. Feedback loops were established to quickly identify and address any issues, ensuring that the final product was both functional and user-friendly.


When the core UI and features had been developed, Ensemble brought in Upwork to identify top mobile app development talent to prepare the code base for launch. This is highlighted in a recent UpWork blog post: “How Flexible Talent Helps a D.C. Firm Save Its Clients Millions

Successful Launch and Global Adoption

The Spot the Station app has been met with enthusiasm from the global community. Within the first week of its launch, the app was downloaded over 160,000 times and has as of May 2024 now been downloaded over 500,000 times reflecting its global appeal. Media coverage from prestigious sources such as,, and has further solidified the app’s status as a groundbreaking tool in space exploration.

Ensemble demonstrated the potential of combining technological innovation, crowdsourcing to enhance civil services and public engagement. The Spot the Station app not only brings the wonders of space closer to people around the world but also encourages a deeper interest in science and exploration.

If your agency is interested in hiring Ensemble to support your organization’s digital transformation goals, reach out to to learn about Ensemble’s various procurement vehicles. 

For more information and to download the app, visit Spot the Station or find it on Google Play and the Apple App Store.

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