Teenage Girls from Africa Built the Continent's First Private Satellite

Shelby Rogers

Next May, Africa will launch its first private satellite - a satellite constructed largely thanks to 14 South African teenage girls.

The team of girls designed the payloads for the scanning satellite as a part of a STEM boot camp. The payload will send back detailed thermal imaging information two times a day to assist with disaster prevention and boost food security.

space1[Image courtesy of Carla de Klerk/MEDO]

"We can try to determine and predict the problems Africa will be facing in the future," Brittany Bull, a student at Pelican Park High School in South Africa who worked on the payload, told CNN. "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."

The project itself comes as a part of South Africa's Meta Economic Development Organisation (MEDO). MEDO purchased the satellite, and the students were trained in part thanks to satellite engineers from Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

space3[Image courtesy of Carla de Klerk/MEDO]

The MEDO Space website notes that despite being an economic organization, their interest in STEM development goes deeper than potential fiscal gain.

"Whether we do socio-economic development or international trade programmes, we aim to empower small business through knowledge management," the group's website said.

space4[Image courtesy of Carla de Klerk/MEDO]

The girls programmed and launched CricketSat satellites via high-altitude weather balloons for training. The data collected by the students' payload could collect crucial data for the region. Southern Africa suffered greatly due to El Nino, reporting a 9.3 million ton shortfall in corn.

"In South Africa we have experienced some of the worst floods and droughts and it has really affected the farmers very badly," Sesam Mngqengqiswa from Philippi High School said.

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The group wants to expand the project to other countries like Kenya, Malawi, and Rwanda. They want to inspire others girls to get involved with STEM fields.

For Mngqengqiswa, the opportunity opens a door she never expected. The product of a single-parent household, she hopes to make her mother proud by excelling in a challenging field.

"Discovering space and seeing the Earth's atmosphere, it's not something many black Africans have been able to do, or do not get the opportunity to look at," says Mngqengqiswa.

space2[Image courtesy of Carla de Klerk/MEDO]

After five decades of international space travel development, no black African has ever been in space. The only African to have ventured was Mark Shuttleworth, the first South African and a white man. These girls look to change that, not just for themselves but for other young women around the world.

"I want to show to fellow girls that we don't need to sit around or limit ourselves," Bull said. "Any career is possible - even aerospace."

Who run the world? Girls. Really smart, innovative and determined girls.

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