South African schoolgirls are helping to create Africa’s first privately-funded satellite in an effort to reset the gender balance in maths and technology

The 16 and 17-year-old girls from disadvantaged areas in Cape Town will refine the design of the payload – the scientific instrument on board the satellite – and prepare it for launch later this year.

The year-long programme began with 120 girls taking part in several technical workshops, with the most talented of the students joining week-long ‘SpaceTrek’ camps where they built high-altitude weather balloon satellites.

Just 12 girls will take part in the final phase, which will determine what the payload will measure, (options include surface temperature, sound levels and radioactivity). Once it is in orbit, pupils from all phases will be able to communicate with the satellite and make use of the data generated.

Now I can stand my ground and pursue science

The project, coordinated by The Meta Economic Development Organisation (MEDO) in collaboration with Morehead State University, aims to encourage girls to consider science, technology, engineering and maths, (STEM) subjects. According to MEDO CEO, Judi Sandrock, around 80 per cent of future jobs will require a STEM background, and yet only 14 per cent of women worldwide work in the fi eld. Bhanekazi Thandwa, 17, said: “SpaceTrek has opened my eyes. Now I can stand my ground and pursue science.”

It is hoped that the girls’ space technology programme will be extended across Africa.

Photo: MEDO