Africa is set to launch its first private satellite into space in May 2017, thanks to 14 high school girls from from Cape Town, South Africa.
The project is part of a high school science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) boot camp.
According to space.com they have designed and constructed payloads for a satellite that will collect agriculture information across the continent, helping African countries better prepare for natural disasters and food shortages. Once the scanning is done, the payload will send back thorough thermal imaging data twice a day.
“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 satellite itself was bought by South Africa’s Meta Economic Development Organisation (MEDO), and the students are being trained to make its payload by satellite engineers from Cape Peninsula University of Technology.
Before beginning work on the space satellite, In their initial training, the girls programmed and launched small CricketSat satellites using high-altitude weather balloons. After these initial trials, they began designing the actual satellite payloads. Thermal imaging data collected from the payloads will be analyzed to reveal early drought or flood detection.
In most African countries, women account for less than 30 percent of scientific researchers. The MEDO project wants to help change that by eventually including girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, and Rwanda, and advocating for the involvement of black African women in science.