Girls to develop Africa’s first private space satellite

They are part of a team of high school girls from Cape Town, South Africa who have designed and built a payload for a satellite that will orbit the Earth’s poles, scanning the surface of Africa.

Once in space, the satellite will gather information about agriculture and food security on the continent.

Using the transmitted data, “we can try to identify and predict the problems that Africa will face in the future,” explains Bull, a student at Pelican Park High School.

“Where our food grows, where we can plant more trees and vegetation, and how we can control remote areas,” she says. “We have a lot of wildfires and floods, but we don’t always get there on time.”

The information received twice a day will be used to prevent natural disasters.

It is part of a project of the South African Metaeconomic Development Organization (MEDO) working with Morehead State University in the USA.

Ambitious first

The girls (14 in total) are being trained by satellite engineers from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology to get more African women into STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).

If the launch is successful, MEDO will become the first private company in Africa to build a satellite and send it into orbit.

“We expect to get a good signal that will allow us to get reliable data,” Mngqengqiswa from Philippi High School says enthusiastically. “In South Africa, we’ve experienced some of the worst floods and droughts ever, and it’s really affected the farmers a lot.”

By 2020, MEDO predicts that 80% of jobs will be related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), but currently only 14% of the STEM workforce worldwide is female.
In recent years, drought and the environmental impacts of climate change have continued to haunt the country. Drought caused by El Niño led to shortages 9.3 million tons in corn production in southern Africa in April 2016, according to a UN report.

“It caused our economy to collapse… It’s a way to look at how we can boost our economy,” says young Mngkengkiswa.

inspirational girls

Girls & # 39;  The satellite will have a detailed overview of the South African drought crisis, which resulted in a 9.3 million tonnes shortfall in southern African corn production in April 2016.

In initial trials, the girls programmed and launched small CricketSat satellites using high-altitude weather probes before eventually helping set up the satellite’s payload.

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Small format satellites are inexpensive ways to quickly collect data about the planet. So far, the tests have involved the collection of thermal imaging data, which is then interpreted for early detection of floods or droughts.

“This is a new field for us [in Africa] but I think with it we can make a positive difference in our economy,” says Mngkengkiswa.

Ultimately, it is hoped that girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda will take part in the project.

Mngqengqiswa comes from a single parent family. Her mother is a housekeeper. Becoming a space engineer or an astronaut, the teenager hopes that her mother will be proud of her.

“Discovering space and observing the earth’s atmosphere is not something that many black Africans have been able to do or haven’t been able to see,” says Mngkengkiswa.

Schoolgirl law; in half a century of space travel, not a single black African has been in outer space. “I want to see it all with my own eyes,” says Mngkengkiswa, “I want to experience it for myself.”

Her teammate Bull agrees: “I want to show the other girls that we don’t have to sit around or limit ourselves. Any career is possible, even aerospace.”