A group of South African school girls are part of a team that’s working to design and construct Africa’s first private satellite. According to the Seeker, the satellite will help gather critical ecological information from across the continent when it launches in May of 2017. It has been designed to help African countries better prepare and manage natural disasters and food shortages.
The group, which consists of 14 girls, is being trained to design and construct payloads for satellites by engineers from Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
The satellite launch is part of a project headed by South Africa’s Meta Economic Development Organization (MEDO) in collaboration with Morehead State University in the United States. The project aims to encourage young African women to pursue careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)-related fields in order to close the gap between male and female enrollment in STEM-based professions.
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Africa lags behind in space research, travel, and exploration, and we’re still yet to see a Black African in space. The MEDO project hopes to launch a new era of space exploration on the continent.
One of the girls, 16-year-old Sesam Mngqengqiswa, told CNN that,”Discovering space and seeing the earth’s atmosphere, it’s not something many Black Africans have been able to do. I want to see these things for myself. I want to be able to experience these things.”
Before designing the space satellite, the girls programmed small “CricketSat” satellites and launched them using weather balloons. After these initial trials, they began designing the actual satellite payloads.
The thermal imaging data collected from the payloads when analyzed could help reveal impending drought conditions or detect rising flood waters.
“We expect to receive a good signal, which will allow us to receive reliable data,” Mngqengqiswa said.
Another student working on the project, 17-year-old Brittany Bull added, “We can try to determine and predict the problems Africa will be facing in the future, where our food is growing, where we can plant more trees and vegetation, and also how we can monitor remote areas. We have a lot of forest fires and floods, but we don’t always get out there in time.”
According to the UN, a drought brought on by El Niño caused South Africa’s April 2016 maize harvest to be short by 9.3 million tons. The country is expected to import three to four million tons of corn this year to make up for the shortage.
South Africa has grappled with some of its worst droughts in recent years and young researchers from the country have risen to the occasion, pouring significant effort into finding effective home grown solutions to tackle the problem.