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Schoolgirls to Participate in Building Africa's First Satellite

Participant in MEDO's STEM program.
Participant in MEDO's STEM program.

One hundred and fifty South African schoolgirls have started in a project to design and build Africa’s first private satellite.

The satellite will be launched into space later this year as part of a program sponsored by The Meta Economic Development Organization (MEDO) to motivate more teenage girls in African countries to study and work in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics field, widely known by the acronym STEM.

The girls kicked off the project Thursday and are tasked with designing the payload for the satellite. They have been trained by satellite engineers on how to build rovers or mini-robots.

MEDO's space program manager, Carla De Klerk, said that after that the young women decided to study agriculture and food security over Africa.

"MEDO has procured the first private satellite in Africa and we have decided to effectively give this to young women to design it and put it together. . . The satellite is going to have a polar orbit, meaning it is going to go over Africa and they want to focus particularly on Africa and the problems they will be facing in a ten-year time."

The project will also involve girls from Namibia, Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana.

A satellite has generally two major sections: the spacecraft bus and the system that provides its core functionality, known simply as the payload.

Research shows that the number of women working in STEM fields is low, more so in Africa where girls are more likely to be kept out of school than boys, because of poverty and early marriage.

About 80 percent of jobs will need STEM skills by the year 2020, but less than 10 percent of girls are currently interested or are pursuing university studies in STEM field.