Two Teenage Girls Built Africa’s First-Ever Private Satellite

Dec 02 2016
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In May 2017, Africa will launch its first private satellite into space. The designers – two teenage girls, Brittany Bull and Sesam Mngqengqiswa. Bull and Mngqengqiswa are part of a larger team of high school girls from Cape Town, South Africa who have designed and built payloads for a satellite that will orbit over the Earth’s poles, scanning Africa’s surface.

These young women have aspirations that climb higher than the satellites they built. “Discovering space and seeing Earth’s atmosphere, it’s not something many black Africans have been able to do. I want to see these things for myself, I want to be able to experience these things,” Mngqengqiswa told CNN. Bull agrees, “I want to show to fellow girls that we don’t need to sit around or limit ourselves. Any career is possible — even aerospace.”

The girls are being mentored by satellite engineers from Cape Peninsula University of Technology as part of several programs encouraging young women to go into STEM fields. Initial trials involved the girls programming and launching small satellites using high-altitude weather balloons. These satellites collected thermal imaging data, which was then interpreted for early flood and drought detection.

But this satellite launch is not just symbolic, it also serves a crucial purpose. Once in space, the satellite will collect information on agriculture and food security within the continent. Information received twice a day will go towards disaster prevention.

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“We can try to determine and predict the problems Africa will be facing  in the future,” explained Bull. “Where our food is growing, where we cant 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.”

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“We expect to receive a good signal which will allow us to receive reliable data. In South Africa we have experienced some of the worst floods and droughts… It has caused our economy to drop… this is a way of looking at how we can boost our economy,” explained Mngqengqiswa.

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