In Conversation with Dr Cui Yufu, Project Manager & Chief Engineer at DFH Satellite Co., Ltd

Dr Cui Yufu, Project Manager & Chief Engineer at DFH Satellite Co., Ltd

Established in August 2001, DFH Satellite Co., Ltd. focuses on system R&D, design, integration and in-orbit service of small satellites. It is subordinated to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). DFH was the principal manufacturer of Ethiopian’s remote sensing satellite, ETRSS-1 and is assisting Egyptian engineers involved in the development of Misrsat-2.

Space in Africa met up with the Project Manager/Chief Engineer at DFH Satellite Co., Ltd,  Dr Cui Yufu, to learn more about the company’s operations in Africa.

Can I get to know you, please?

My name is Dr Cui Yufu. I am the Project Manager/Chief Engineer at DFH Satellite Co., Ltd., mainly engaging in system R&D, design, integration and in-orbit service of small satellites. 

I bagged my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in flight vehicle engineering and my PhD in vehicle engineering from the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), China.

Engaging in the research and development of small satellites for more than 20 years, I have participated in and led the development of 11 satellites, including Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite-2 (VRSS-2), Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite-1 (PRSS-1) and Ethiopia’s Remote Sensing Satellite- 1(ETRSS-1). Currently, I am the project manager and chief engineer on the Egyptian Remote Sensing Satellite-2 (MisrSat-2). 

As one of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) subsidiaries, what products/services do your company offer?

DFH is a small satellite system development entity subordinated to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and authorised by the Chinese government as the National Engineering Research Centre for Small Satellite and Applications. 

Also, DFH provides high-performance satellite solutions for earth observation, satellite communication, space exploration and demonstration of new technologies in orbit. In addition, we offer cutting-edge engineering services, including mission consultation, satellite joint-design/development, space engineering standards establishment, and know-how transfer (KHTT). The company also enjoys a relatively strong developing and manufacturing capacity of more than 40 satellites at 200-1500kg each year. 

For more than 20 years of development, DFH has been keeping close cooperation with international partners, such as European Space Agency (ESA), the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), collaborating on eight satellites including the Double Star project, Chinese-French Oceanography Satellite (CFOSAT) and the Chinese Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES). Similarly, DFH has supported several foreign customers to develop their satellites via a joint-development mode or technical support model, including the VRSS-1, VRSS-2, PRSS-1, ETRSS-1 etc. Building on these joint satellite programmes, these customers have built the capacity to independently operate their in-orbit remote sensing satellites. 

In addition, based on our continued relationship, these countries are beginning to develop the capacity to build their space systems. We have trained more than 200 satellite system engineers in emerging space nations to help them realise their objective of leveraging space technologies for sustainable development. 

Based on our independently developed platforms, such as CAST1000, CAST2000 and CAST3000, DFH has successfully launched 136 satellites for domestic and international customers, solving remote sensing challenges, promoting SDGs 2030 and developing a human community with a shared space future.

How would you describe your company’s operation in Africa? 

China and Africa have always been a community with a shared future and common goal, translating into several deals in the space and satellite ecosystem. Moreover, in recent years, under the mechanism of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, both countries have achieved fruitful results in several industries, including the aerospace industry, an important emerging field. 

Also, DFH has continued to share its successful experiences in more than 20 years of space systems development, to support Africa’s space dream. To help achieve this goal, we implemented comprehensive cooperation with Africa, carrying out a series of activities such as satellite system construction, engineering personnel training, and youth space and science education. 

We can sum up our operation in Africa into two main categories; satellite development and human capacity development.

Satellite development 

In terms of satellite design and construction, DFH undertook the development of Ethiopia’s remote sensing satellite (ETRSS-1) and the Egyptian MisrSat-2.

ETRSS-1 project adopted a “turn-key” solution, including space segment, ground segment, launch service and capacity training. The satellite weighs 65 kg and carries a multi-spectrum optical payload with 15m GSD (Group Sampling Data). It was launched successfully on 20 December 2019 and operated by Ethiopian engineers independently, benefiting from the engineering training carried out in the early stage of the satellite development. In addition, DFH trained the Ethiopian engineers in several aspects, including satellite maintenance, space mission plan, image (data) acquisition, processing and utilisation. 

To date, ETRSS-1 has performed over 1000 satellite tracking imaging, receiving more than 6TB of raw data with precise, stable and crisp images. These images have helped Ethiopia in its quest to leverage satellite technologies to address climate change and provide actionable intelligence for environmental monitoring decision-makers in Ethiopia.

Egypt’s Misrsat 2 project was initiated through a joint development programme between Egyptian and Chinese teams. Currently, the satellite is under development. With the support of the Chinese team,  the Egyptian engineers would complete the assembly, integration and testing, and system verification using facilities available at Egypt’s AIT centre in Cairo. When operational, the satellite would be controlled and operated independently by the Egyptian team and leveraged to enhance the development of several sectors of the country’s economy, including agriculture, urban planning, environmental protection, and natural disaster assessment. 

Also, DFH is launching requirement analyses and feasibility studies with several other African countries as the first step to joint satellite development with them.

Human capacity development

More than 60% of all engineers who have received training in satellite development from DFH are from African countries. Apart from the training clause included in the ETRSS-1 and MisrSat-2 projects, we have also organised an “International Training Workshop” focusing on the capacity development of leveraging space technologies to address climate change. In 2019, 23 engineers and experts from 13 African countries, including Congo, Kenya, Senegal and Zambia, benefited from this workshop.

Furthermore, DFH is participating in the Hyperspace Opportunity for Pioneering Education (HOPE) programme under the “Forum on China-Africa Cooperation-Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024)”. The programme aims to build a space science exchange platform for Chinese and African middle school students to explore a new space science popularisation cooperation model.

Are there roadblocks to carrying out your operations in Africa?

From our continued cooperation with African states, we are quite impressed by their passion and commitment to developing their space ecosystem. Africans have a strong wish to build their space capacity,  and we have been able to collaborate with them on several projects, with more planned for the future. To this end, I can’t think of any roadblock to our operations in Africa. 

Also, our ability to provide space services tailored to customers’ specifications, including the “turnkey satellite engineering”, space-related KHTT or training, and to help Africans construct their space professional engineering team has made it easier to navigate the African space scene without roadblocks. 

What is the update on the HOPE programme?

The HOPE project is a space science education cooperation programme proposed by China National Space Administration (CNSA) in collaboration with African space agencies and education authorities under China-Africa’s traditional friendship and space cooperation mechanism. 

In Nov. 2021, this space cooperation between China & Africa youth students was included in the “Forum on China-Africa Cooperation-Dakar Action Plan (2022-2024)” and adopted by the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. DFH, as a technology and engineering supporting unit, is taking part in this project. 

On Dec 16, 2021, the opening ceremony and 1st students exchange and training programme among China, Egypt and Ethiopia were successfully held online. Currently, over 40 students from four different schools in China, Egypt and Ethiopia have participated in three exchange programmes, focusing on sharing knowledge on space and satellite development.

After the launch of the 1st middle school cubesat, we conducted a “call for satellite imaging ideas” to gather students’ ideas on the type of satellite images they would like to see. This exercise was held on April 21, 2022. In future, with the support of CNSA, there will be a principal forum and China-Africa Summer/Winter space camp, and we would welcome more African partners to join the programme.

What is your assessment of the African space industry?

Based on our interactions with several African states via satellite projects and human capacity development projects, I have realised the continent’s willingness to leverage space technologies to enhance their social, economic and environmental development. Also, Africans hope to leverage space to build traction in the SDG goals.

More African countries have realised that space technology could be the catalyst to accelerate their sustainable development goals in recent years. For instance, the extensive application of remote sensing and geographical information system technology is critical to improving human well-being, economic competitiveness and sustainable development. This realisation led to the ETRSS-1, which has practical use in climate change assessment and drought mitigation.

Similarly, the African space industry is developing rapidly due to the increasing adoption of space technologies and space-derived data. As a result, many African countries have started developing space technologies and infrastructures.

However, to enhance this development across the entire continent, Africans need to invest in capacity development and exchange programs in every space-related programme to establish a sustainable talent pipeline to meet future skills needs. In addition, space programs need to be included right from the elementary school curricula to pique the interest of the young ones. To this end, DFH is willing to share experience and support Africans in training their engineers, developing their independent space capacity, and contributing to global space development.


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