They are part of a team of high school girls from Cape Town, South Africa, who have designed and built payloads for a satellite that will orbit the Earth’s poles exploring the surface of Africa.
Once in space, the satellite will collect information on agriculture and food security on the continent.
Using the transmitted data, “we can try to determine 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 also how we can control remote areas,” he says. “We have a lot of forest fires and floods, but we don’t always arrive on time.”
The information received twice a day will be directed at disaster prevention.
It is part of a project of the Organization for Economic Development (MEDO) of South Africa that works with Morehead State University in the United States.
The girls (14 in total) are being trained by satellite engineers from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, with the aim of encouraging more African women to ETEM (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 hope to receive a good signal, which will allow us to receive reliable data,” says an enthusiastic Mngqengqiswa, from Philippi High School. “In South Africa we have experienced some of the worst floods and droughts and it has really affected farmers a lot.”
“It has caused our economy to collapse … This is a way of looking at how we can boost our economy,” says young Mngqengqiswa.
The first tests involved girls programming and launching small CricketSat satellites using high-altitude weather balloons, before eventually helping to set up the payloads of the satellites.
Small format satellites are low cost ways to collect data on the planet quickly. Tests so far have involved the collection of thermal images that are then interpreted for early detection of floods or droughts.
“It ‘s a new field for us [in Africa] but I think with that we would be able to make positive changes in our economy, ”Mngqengqiswa says.
Ultimately, the project is expected to include girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda.
Mngqengqiswa comes from a single-parent home. Her mother is a domestic worker. By becoming a space engineer or astronaut, the teenager hopes to make his mother proud.
“Discovering space and seeing the Earth’s atmosphere, is not something that many black Africans have been able to do or not have a chance to look at,” Mngqengqiswa says.
The school is right; in half a century of space travel, no black African has traveled into outer space. “I want to see these things for myself,” Mngqengqiswa says, “I want to be able to experience these things.”
His teammate Bull agrees: “I want to show fellow girls that we don’t need to sit or limit ourselves. Any race is possible, even aerospace.”