Girls to design 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 payloads for a satellite to orbit the Earth’s poles sweeping the surface of Africa.
Once in space, the satellite will collect information on agriculture and food security on the continent.
Using the data transmitted, “we can try to identify and predict the problems that Africa will face in the future,” said Bull, a student at Pelican Park High School.
“Where our food grows, where we can plant more trees and vegetation and also how we can monitor remote areas,” she said. “We have a lot of forest fires and floods, but we don’t always go out on time.”
The information received twice a day will be used for disaster prevention.
This is part of a project by the Meta Economic Development Organization (MEDO) of South Africa, in collaboration with Morehead State University in the United States.
The girls (14 in total) are trained by satellite engineers from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, with the aim of encouraging more African women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).
If the launch is successful, it will make MEDO the first private company in Africa to build a satellite and send it into orbit.
“We expect to receive a good signal, which will allow us to receive reliable data,” said an enthusiastic Mngqengqiswa from the Philippi High School. “In South Africa we have experienced some of the worst floods and droughts and it has hit farmers very badly.”
“It caused our economy to fall … It’s a way of seeing how we can stimulate our economy,” said the young Mngqengqiswa.
Initial testing involved programming and launching small CricketSat satellites using high altitude weather balloons, before finally helping to configure the satellite payloads.
Small format satellites are inexpensive ways to quickly collect data from the planet. So far, testing has involved collecting thermal imaging data which is then interpreted for early detection of floods or droughts.
“This is a new area for us [in Africa] but I think with that we could make positive changes to our economy, ”said Mngqengqiswa.
Ultimately, it is hoped that the project will include girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda.
Mngqengqiswa comes from a single-parent household. Her mother is a domestic worker. By becoming a space engineer or astronaut, the teenager hopes to make her mother proud.
“Discovering space and seeing the Earth’s atmosphere is not something that many black Africans have been able to do or have not had the opportunity to watch,” says Mngqengqiswa.
The schoolgirl is right; In half a century of space travel, no black African has ever traveled in space. “I want to see these things for myself,” says Mngqengqiswa, “I want to be able to experience these things.”
Teammate Bull agrees, “I want to show the other girls that we don’t need to sit or limit ourselves. Any career is possible – even aerospace.”