They are part of a team of high school students from Cape Town in South Africa, who designed and built a payload for a satellite that will orbit over the earth’s poles by scanning the African surface.
Once in space, the satellite will collect information on agriculture and food safety 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 track remote areas,” she says. “We have a lot of forest fires and floods, but we don’t always get out on time.”
Information obtained twice a day will be directed towards disaster prevention.
It is part of a project by the South African Organization for Meta-Economic Development (MEDO) working with Morehead University in the United States.
The girls (14 in total) are training satellite engineers from Cape Peninsula University of Technology, wanting to encourage more women from Africa to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).
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 get a good signal, which will allow us to receive reliable data,” says a delighted Mngqengqiswa, from Philippi High School. “We’ve had some of the worst floods and droughts in South Africa and it’s really affected farmers.”
“It has caused our economy to fail … This is a way of looking at how we can improve our economy,” says young Mngqengqiswa.
Initial trials involved girls programming and launching small CricketSat satellites using high-altitude balloons, before finally helping to adjust the satellite’s load.
Small format satellites are ways to collect data faster on the planet. Tests to date have included collecting thermal imaging data which is then interpreted for early detection of floods or droughts.
“It’s a new field for us [in Africa] but I think that with that we would be able to achieve positive changes in our economy, ”says Mngqengqiswa.
Finally, we hope that the project will include girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda.
Mngqengqiswa comes from one parental household. Her mother is a domestic worker. Becoming a space engineer or astronaut, the teenager hopes to make her mother proud.
“Discovering the universe and looking at the Earth’s atmosphere is not something that many black Africans have managed to do or don’t get a chance to look at,” Mngqengqiswa says.
The student is right; in half a century of space travel no black African has traveled into space. “I want to see these things for myself,” says Mngqengqiswa, “I want to be able to experience these things.”
Her colleague from the Bull team agrees: “I want to show colleagues that we don’t need to sit around or limit ourselves. Any career is possible – even aviation.”