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SLD 45 Data Derby Hackathon

Where cutting-edge data and software methods meet to enable access to space!

Kyle Lyon
Kyle Lyon
4 min read
SLD 45 Data Derby Hackathon

Two weeks ago, the Data Integration Team of Space Launch Delta 45 held the Inaugural Data Derby Hackathon at The Forge in Patrick Space Force Base. The competition was designed for military personnel, civilians, and contractors with common access cards and focused on using the latest immersive data visualization and AI/ML software to solve the challenges facing the Cape Canaveral Space Port. I was privileged to represent Silicon Mountain at the Hackathon, as the issues tackled were relevant to our key government partners and customers.

Additionally, it was a great learning opportunity as the hackathon organizers had us participate in workshops introducing us to game engines such as Unity, Godot, and Unreal Engine, as well as programming sessions to teach us how to build a chatbot using TensorFlow. These informative and valuable sessions gave me new skills and perspectives I look forward to applying to future projects.

Preparation for the Hackathon was minimal, with the only requirement to ensure that our VM access worked on their network. The organizers encouraged us to use their secure military network, "MARVIN," for all our work. Other than that, my main goal was to engage with other software experts, learn from their experiences, and gain more insight into the Space Force's challenges in ensuring access to space.

Coincidentally, a couple of SpaceX launches were scheduled during the same week as the event, which was an exciting bonus. Even with the uncertain weather, the anticipation surrounding the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches added an extra level of energy to the event.

During the event, I collaborated with team members from Space Force's Supra Coders program and engineers from fellow contractors like Defense Unicorns and Beast Code. Each team approached different issues, like creating a digital twin of the Cape Canaveral SFB, applying neural networks to weather data, and creating a GPS-enabled app to track transports on base. My team's project aimed to speed up the launch cadence of Cape Canaveral by optimizing the scheduling of transports through a simulation and conflict resolution dashboard.

Aside from the Hackathon, I also had the opportunity to present my company's Falcon Analytics dashboard to high-ranking military leaders at a science fair-like presentation of innovations happening at The Forge. I spoke to approximately 60 Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels during the booth-style presentation. Among the attendees were 3-Star General Guetlein and 2-Star General Purdy, and a few other 1-star generals.

The Forge had seven booths, each with a different theme. My booth focused on mission assurance, while another booth showcased Ghost Robotics' quadruped unmanned ground vehicle (Q-UGV), also known as "robot dog." As I'm told, the Q-UGVs were designed for security patrols on Cape Canaveral and other repetitive tasks, and the demonstration was excellent. I was also told that a version of the robot dog comes equipped with a sniper rifle on its back, which was interesting to hear.

Q-UGV (Robot Dog)

Later, I accompanied my colleagues to watch the VIASAT-3 Falcon Heavy Launch, slated to take place at Launch Complex 39A. However, the weather did not appear in our favor, with a meager 30 percent chance of the rocket taking off. Despite the less-than-ideal conditions, we waited outside the launch complex for about 20 minutes until our enthusiastic anticipation was cut short as the launch got scrubbed due to the brewing storm. My tweet below shows off the stormy conditions at the time. As you can see, it was getting pretty bad.

On our way back from the launch site, the thunderstorm brewing earlier escalated into a full-blown tornado accompanied by a hailstorm. So we had to find shelter on the base while enduring high-speed winds, torrential hail, and driving through flooded roads. The experience was pretty harrowing. I contacted my Floridian friends for their take on the storm, but they didn't consider it a big deal.

Despite the stormy weather, I watched a Falcon 9 rocket launch atop the 5SLS office building the next day. Although not as grand as the Falcon Heavy launch, it's always a remarkable sight.

During the final day of the Hackathon, all teams presented their solutions at a science fair-style event. Our team was thrilled to receive the Agility prize for our innovative approach, which involved developing a dashboard prototype within Palantir.

However, I most enjoyed gaining insights into Space Force's operations and decision-making processes. We delved into the intricacies of prediction algorithms that forecast the probability of launch scrubs or delays due to weather violations. Furthermore, we had the chance to examine Cape Canaveral's maintenance data, which enriched our understanding of the challenges faced.

This experience shed light on the complexities within the space industry, prompting me to explore data science and decision science further. I'm particularly keen on using Microsoft's Planetary Computer to assist Space Force in more efficiently making decisions regarding the weather and climate before launches.

I'm eager to apply my skills and knowledge to tackle real-world issues within the space industry and contribute meaningfully to its advancement. The event was an invaluable learning experience that inspired me to remain engaged in this field.

Kyle Lyon Twitter

I'm Kyle, a Data Scientist in DevSecOps contracting with the U.S. Space Force through Silicon Mountain Technologies.