Teen girls are preparing for space launch

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They are part of a team of high school girls from Cape Town, South Africa, who designed and built payloads for a satellite orbiting the Earth's poles and scanning the surface of Africa.

In space, the satellite gathers information on agriculture and food security on the continent.

Using the data we provide, we can "try to determine and predict the problems that Africa will face in the future," said Bull, a student at Pelican Park High School.

"Where our food grows, where we plant more trees and vegetation, and how we can monitor remote areas," she says. "We have a lot of forest fires and floods, but we don't always get out in time."

Information received twice a day contributes to civil protection.

It is part of a project by the South African Meta Economic Development Organization (MEDO) that is working with Morehead State University in the United States.

Ambitious first

The girls (14 in total) are being trained by satellite engineers from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in order to get more African women excited about MINT (natural sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics).

If the launch is successful, MEDO will be the first private company in Africa to build and launch a satellite.

"We expect a good signal with which we can receive reliable data," explains an enthusiastic Mngqengqiswa from Philippi High School. "We have seen some of the worst floods and droughts in South Africa and it has hit farmers very hard."

According to MEDO, 80% of jobs will be linked to MINT (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) by 2020, but currently only 14% of MINT employees worldwide are women.
Droughts and environmental influences from climate change have plagued the country in recent years. A drought caused by El Niño led to a decline in corn production in southern Africa by 9.3 million tons in April 2016, according to a UN report.

"It has caused our economy to shrink … This is one view of how we can strengthen our economy," says the young Mngqengqiswa.

Inspirational girls

The girls & # 39; The satellite will have a detailed overview of the drought crisis in South Africa, which resulted in a decline in corn production in southern Africa by 9.3 million tons in April 2016.

In the first experiments, the girls programmed and launched small CricketSat satellites with high-altitude weather balloons before finally contributing to the configuration of the satellite payloads.

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Small format satellites are inexpensive methods to quickly collect data on the planet. Previous tests included the acquisition of thermal image data, which are then interpreted for the early detection of floods or droughts.

"It is a new field for us [in Africa] but I think it could change our economy positively, "says Mngqengqiswa.

Ultimately, it is hoped that the project will include girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda.

Mngqengqiswa comes from a household with only one parent. Her mother is a domestic worker. As an aerospace engineer or astronaut, the teenager hopes to make her mother proud.

"Discovering space and seeing the Earth's atmosphere is not something that many Black Africans have been able to do or have not been able to see," says Mngqengqiswa.

The schoolgirl 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 teammate Bull agrees: "I want to show other girls that we don't have to sit around or restrict ourselves. Any career is possible – even in the aerospace industry."