Although they are adolescents, Brittany Bull, 17, and Sesam Mngqengqiswa, 16, have big dreams of sending Africa’s initial private satellite into orbit in 2019.
A group of teenage girls from Cape Town, South Africa, have created and assembled payloads for a satellite that will scan Africa’s surface while orbiting over the earth’s poles.
Once the satellite is in space, it will gather data on agriculture and food security in the continent.
According to Bull, a student at Pelican Park High School, by analyzing the transmitted data, we can attempt to foresee the challenges that Africa will encounter in the coming years.
She mentions the locations of our food production and potential areas for planting trees and vegetation, as well as the need to monitor remote regions. Despite facing challenges such as forest fires and floods, timely responses may not always be possible.
Data received twice daily will be utilized for disaster prevention purposes.
MEDO, the Meta Economic Development Organization of South Africa, is collaborating with Morehead State University in the United States for a project.
The progress of Africa’s space exploration.
Fourteen girls are being trained by engineers from Cape Peninsula University of Technology via satellite in order to promote more African women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
If the launch is a success, MEDO will become the first private company in Africa to construct and launch a satellite into orbit.
“We are anticipating a strong signal that will provide us with dependable data,” states Mngqengqiswa, a passionate teacher at Philippi High School. “In South Africa, we have faced severe floods and droughts that have greatly impacted farmers.”
In recent years, the country has been facing ongoing challenges with drought and environmental impacts caused by climate change. According to a UN report, a drought induced by El Niño resulted in a deficit of 9.3 million tons in maize production in southern Africa in April 2016.
“The decrease in our economy has been a result of this… This presents us with an opportunity to consider ways to improve our economy,” states the youth, Mngqengqiswa.
The first attempts consisted of the girls coding and sending out small CricketSat satellites using weather balloons that reach high altitudes. They then went on to assist in setting up the payloads for the satellites.
Small, inexpensive satellites are efficient for quickly collecting data about the planet. Current experiments have focused on gathering thermal imaging data, which is then analyzed for early detection of flooding or drought.
Mngqengqiswa expresses their belief that this new field in Africa has the potential to bring about beneficial changes to the economy.
In the end, the goal is for the project to involve girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, and Rwanda.
Mngqengqiswa was raised by a single parent and her mother works as a domestic worker. She dreams of becoming a space engineer or astronaut in order to bring pride to her mother.
Mngqengqiswa explains that the ability to explore space and observe the Earth’s atmosphere is not a common experience among black Africans, as many do not have the opportunity to do so.
The young female student is correct; throughout 50 years of space exploration, no person of African descent has traveled to outer space. Mngqengqiswa expresses, “I desire to witness these phenomena firsthand and have the opportunity to personally experience them.”
Bull, her teammate, also shares the same sentiment: “I want to inspire other girls by showing them that we don’t have to limit ourselves or stay idle. Any profession is attainable, even in the field of aerospace.”