2021 Retrospective

Greeting all, and welcome to the close of 2021 at ORI.

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Here are our challenges and successes from the past year and what we’re looking forward to in 2022. There’s a lot going on here and some of the things we are facing are not fun. Some of the discussion is political and tedious. We have some decisions that have been made and some big ones to make for 2022 and beyond. Your opinions matter. Comment and critique welcome and encouraged.

First and foremost, we thank the individuals and organizations that have made our work possible. Funding comes from YASME Foundation, ARRL Foundation, ARDC Foundation, Free Software Foundation, our Trans-Ionospheric and JoCo Badge projects, proceeds from the Gold Medal Ideas ORI store, and people like you.

2021 Retrospective

We are a research institution. We are not a ham radio club. Our primary focus is to carry out open source work for the amateur radio space and terrestrial bands. We expect this work to be used by amateur radio groups that execute and operate designs in space and on earth. This expectation has not been met in some of the ways we anticipated, but we have a broad path forward, a lot of things going very well, and we are going to take full advantage of all the positive developments over the past year in every way we can.

This next part is not the most fun story to write or read, but there’s a lot of very good lessons learned here, and it needs to be put in one place so that our amateur satellite volunteers know about it and can find it.

One can skip ahead (by clicking here) to “Successes in 2021” further down the page to get straight to technical progress.

When we say we expected our work to be used by amateur satellite groups, we assumed this meant AMSAT. Primarily AMSAT-NA, but we are also here to serve AMSAT-DL, AMSAT-UK, and so on. ORI is an AMSAT Member Society, and has showed preparation, enthusiasm, and experience through continued contributions to the amateur satellite community. ORI volunteers have professional, academic, and amateur experience with collectively at least a couple dozen payloads in orbit, ranging from GEO commercial to LEO amateur. A very large fraction of our volunteers are new to amateur radio. They have never volunteered for AMSAT or any other legacy satellite group before. Other volunteers have experience with AMSAT but no current role because of the politics of AMSAT-NA GOLF. I can say without any reservation that there is no loss of capability to any AMSAT organization from ORI activity. We have always encouraged volunteering for and membership within whatever AMSAT organization is nearest to you. It’s not just supportive words, but actions as well. We have sold AMSAT-NA memberships at numerous events over the years. We have actively promoted TAPR, AMSAT, ARRL, and other amateur groups at every opportunity. We’ve happily worked with TAPR and ARRL to great positive effect.

We have achieved some truly significant wins in the regulatory sphere with ITAR/EAR and Debris Mitigation, have groundbreaking success in P4DX comms development, and have one of the very few functional advanced communications research remote access lab benches in existence. We have expanded the AmbaSat Inspired Sensors project to move the AmbaSat to 70cm in anticipation of sounding rocket and space tests, have fully supported M17 Development and Deployment, and have proposed an employment program to ARDC to directly confront the problem with open source burnout in DSP/FPGA open source amateur designs.

We really do not suck.

However, despite all this good work, AMSAT-NA leadership, including senior officers, have consistently and publicly described ORI as “grifters” and “thieves” and “frauds”. Officers of AMSAT-NA have said we are “undeserving of any community support” and have taken actions to try and make this opinion a reality. It hasn’t worked, but these aggressively provocative and negative public posts from AMSAT-NA officers and members about ORI are clearly intended to harm. The attacks date back to 2018. ORI has not responded to any of this. However, ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, and participants in ORI need to know what’s being said and done.

ORI has had work censored from AMSAT publications and events. An ITAR/EAR update article submitted in October 2021 was removed before publication. According to the editor, this was the first time ever an article had been censored in the AMSAT Journal. The article had been requested by the editor and is in the draft of that issue of the Journal. It was personally squashed by the AMSAT President after the draft Journal was sent out. Several presentations and some papers were ordered to be eliminated at the last minute from 2020 AMSAT Symposium. The work had been welcomed by the submissions chair. This exclusion was unprecedented as well.

This sort of bizarre censorship has no place in amateur radio. Our disappointment with these decisions has been communicated to the editor of AMSAT Journal and the submissions chair for AMSAT Symposium.

For 2021, ORI co-hosted a half-day conference in collaboration with IEEE. This Information Theory Space and Satellite Symposium was successful, got great reviews, and IEEE has asked several times if ORI would be willing to organize something like this again. This gave us a chance to present some of the sort of work that we think should be part of AMSAT Symposium.

You can find the event recordings here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSfJ4B57S8DnhlrRya50IxGP90_uGpiho

Why do we care about any of this grumpy opposition? Why be concerned about censorship from a relatively small event or newsletter?

Because AMSAT-NA is presumed to be the primary advocacy group for amateur satellite activity in the United States. Because we want all AMSAT organizations to be successful. Because AMSAT and ARISS-USA have claimed that they are gatekeepers for amateur radio access to NASA. Because AMSAT-NA currently controls access to things like IARU committees for Region 2. Because AMSAT-NA gets irate when anyone else meets with the FCC on behalf of the amateur satellite service, but will not present anything outside of internal AMSAT-NA interests.

We care about this because ORI showed up and contributed within the AMSAT framework in good faith.

AMSAT-NA is, to be blunt, supposed to help us do exactly what we are doing. We are not a “threat”. We are not “thieves”. We are not “grifters”. We are not “frauds”. We don’t “siphon technical members away”. We are not “an embarrassment”. We deserve absolutely none of this sort of thing. We have invited AMSAT-NA to participate in every single major endeavor that we have carried out and accomplished. This inclusive and cooperative spirit has not been reciprocated.

Tacit acceptance of this sort of behavior is the real embarrassment.

For 2022, we will (of course) continue to utilize the amateur radio bands. All radio work will directly benefit amateur radio terrestrial and space. There will be no loss of opportunities or restrictions of goals for technical work. However, our associations and attention moving forward will focus on communities and organizations that share basic values with ORI. There will be some changes as we adapt, evolve, and grow. We can’t afford to spend time trying to work with organizations completely out of step with open source amateur satellite work, no matter how famous, wealthy, or historical they happen to be.

Successes in 2021

There is a lot of good news here.

Both the San Diego Microwave Group and the San Bernardino Microwave Society have been actively supportive and provided material assistance, volunteer time, and expert advice that we simply would not have received anywhere else. We would not have had a successful meeting with the FCC about Debris Mitigation without the support from members of these two radio clubs. Members generously offered their time, input, and guidance. All the regulatory work can be found here: https://github.com/phase4ground/documents/tree/master/Regulatory

Based on this meeting, we had a series of Orbit Workshops in November 2021. Recordings posted to the debris mitigation channel on our Slack.

The ITAR CJ Request work was funded through a grant from ARDC. The EAR Classification, successful Advisory Opinion Letter from Commerce, FAQ, and “How to use this work” flow graph were paid for with a loan to ORI. The process to fundraise to pay back this loan is underway. The final amount for EAR/Advisory Opinion/FAQ/Flowgraph is $14,425.00 Similar to the ITAR CJ Request work, this amount is substantially less than initial estimates. Credit goes to excellent counsel at Thomsen and Burke LLP and a motivated volunteer team at ORI that handled as many of the preparations as possible. Active sustained involvement reduced costs and increased competence and awareness of the many legal issues we were dealing with.

For 2022, we have two legal efforts that we are considering becoming involved with. Fundraising for those efforts will happen in advance of the work. This is a change from how we did the ITAR/EAR legal work, where fundraising was done after the legal work was completed.

We would not have had a successful multi-media beacon demonstration without support and advice from Kerry Banke and Ron Economos. A video presentation of this work can be found at https://youtu.be/vjfRI1w_dSs?t=609 and documentation can be found here: https://github.com/phase4ground/documents/tree/master/Engineering/Transmitters/DVB-S2-Multimedia-Beacon

This work is presented as a terrestrial beacon, but is also the default digital download for the P4DX transponder payload.

The payload work is currently focused on producing an FGPA-based end-to-end over-the-air demonstration. There are multiple repositories. The best way to get an overview of this work is either through the README.md files in the repos at https://github.com/phase4ground and https://github.com/phase4space.

If reviewing source code and block diagrams is not your thing, then watch the introduction of this video: https://youtu.be/fCmzS6jBhHg followed by the most recent Technical Advisory Committee meeting here: https://youtu.be/V2BlIp7XYMM

Thomas Parry is the Primary Investigator and lead the TAC meeting. Wally Ritchie (SK) was the previous and founding Primary Investigator, and he presented the overview in the design review linked above.

P4DX is our digital multiplexing microwave amateur band transverter. The native digital uplink is M17 FDMA and the downlink is TDM DVB-S2/X. A high-level architectural paper can be found here: https://github.com/phase4ground/documents/tree/master/Engineering/Requirements/Architecture

One of the current roadblocks with the end-to-end demo is a necessary expansion of capability in Remote Labs West. In order to use the Analog Devices ADRV9371 RFIC development board, we can get by with using an SD card image in the FPGA development station. However, this requires a lot of manual intervention, so booting the filesystem over NFS is an obvious improvement. This turned out to be impossible because the kernel from Analog Devices does not appear to support NFS. So, we’re fixing it and will (assuming success) submit whatever capabilities we add to the kernel back to Analog Devices. In the meantime, integration of the various bodies of FGPA code continues. Immediately following the NFS boot addition is DVB-S2/X verification station bring-up, in anticipation of being able to test what comes out of the ADRV9371. That’s just one example of the type of work that has had to happen all year in order to get things done.

Remote Labs have become much more than a “wear item” along the way. Once it became clear that the internet-accessible lab benches had potential to support a much wider variety of projects than just P4DX, volunteers started putting time into making sure they were as easy to use as possible. You can find out more about what Remote Labs are and how they work by going here: https://github.com/phase4ground/documents/tree/master/Remote_Labs

Remote Labs East (Florida) equipment has been moved to Remote Labs South (Arkansas). The move was necessary due to the untimely death of Wally Ritchie in July 2021. The new site will need additional funding to complete that Florida did not require. A grant application was made to ARDC in late August 2021 for this work. Remote Labs South will also have additional capabilities for bacteriophage and interferometry work. Both are open source efforts.

There is a backup bridge funding plan to get the lab bench at Remote Lab South operational. We can temporarily divert funds allocated to P4DX for FPGA software licenses, as the floating license approach has worked out well for us. The original budget planned for 10 node-locked licenses as those were the type of licenses we have received as an organization in the past. With only 1 floating license required for work so far, this leaves some margin in the budget. This is enough margin to develop Remote Labs South infrastructure while waiting for a response about funding from ARDC, without further delaying deployment of this lab.

Remote Labs are a good example of the frugality, public science orientation, and opportunistic spirit of ORI volunteers. We look forward to many years of making the equipment available to the open source community. We could use your help in spreading the word about this asset.

HamCation and Ham Expo have been invaluable. The staff and volunteers have been friendly, supportive, and creative. We are looking forward to HamCation 2022. If all goes well this will be our first in-person event most of us have been able to attend in quite a while. We have a booth in our usual spot. M17 Project and TAPR are on either side, and the large Society for Amateur Radio Astronomy booth is on the other side of TAPR. DATV is in the same row. ARRL will have a large presence. We have a lot of forum time and plenty to talk about. Returning to in-person events is a big step and there is extra stress, risk, and planning involved. If you are willing to be part of HamCation, please get in touch and we will add you to the planning spreadsheet and discussions.

IEEE Computer Society, Information Theory Society, and Signals and Systems have been incredibly supportive. As mentioned above, in 2021, ORI co-hosted a half-day conference in collaboration with IEEE. This Information Theory Space and Satellite Symposium was successful, got great reviews, and IEEE has asked several times if ORI would be willing to organize something like this again.

You can find the event recordings here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLSfJ4B57S8DnhlrRya50IxGP90_uGpiho

We have received a lot of positive feedback from IEEE section, region, and national executive teams. The biggest challenge with IEEE is that they are not the best or easiest way to publish open source or open access work. They are honestly not set up for public access papers. IEEE is split between academia and industry members, and that’s the constituencies more or less served. Despite the big differences between a tiny open source non-profit and a gigantic professional development organization, there is a substantial amount of interaction and genuine mutual support. IEEE does not exist without volunteers. Therefore, what we are doing is recognizable as a thing of value by everyone in any role any of us comes into contact with. We also benefited from having access to the salary survey results, anonymized membership statistics, and a targeted member survey in order to help construct the Engineers General grant proposals to ARDC. Is there a possibility of funding through IEEE? Yes, although there are a lot of limitations.

We have solid relationships with a number of Universities. Working with academic institutions is not simple as a non-profit, but we have transcended these difficulties several times and are part of the process of getting space “done better” for students wherever we can. Our most recent involvement is getting AmbaSat at 70cm, the DVB-S2/X microwave band work, and M17 equipment on board sounding rockets and in the running on several LEO platforms. Is there a possibility of funding through Universities? Honestly, no. They expect funding from us, in order to do anything with us. That is just the way the current engineering academy operates. Students are not “free labor” now and never really have been in the past.

We have brought a small grant to a University, with the professor as the Primary Investigator (AmbaSat Inspired Sensors). We would be willing to do that again, if we were fortunate enough to get a professor of the same motivation, experience, and availability, and fortunate enough to get enough grant money to ensure student time. In general, the overhead customarily demanded at a University, and the costs of getting significant seat time from enough students, require much larger grants than we have pursued to date. If you know of an opportunity or have an idea, get in touch with ORI board and let’s see what we can achieve.

AmbaSat Inspired Sensors has redesigned the AmbaSat board to move from 915 MHz ISM LoRaWan to 70cm amateur radio satellite band. Thank you to Vidya Gopalakrishna and Jay Francis for making this happen. LoRa with integration to both SatNOGS and The Things Network through bridging is prototyping now. The first hardware with the 70cm part has been received and works. There were other changes to improve power and ground and routing. All of the details can be found in the kicad-conversion branch at https://github.com/phase4space/AmbaSat-1/tree/kicad_conversion/Release

This past year has been a significant step forward for the M17 Project. The protocol has been strengthened, the number of development boards in the community has increased, the amount of hardware that M17 can work on has increased, and the lab on the East Coast of the US is moving forward. There have been numerous successful public outreach efforts resulting in a steady increase in name recognition, awareness of the communications mode, and participation on the M17 Discord. A large amount of lab equipment has been earmarked by ORI for M17. This purchase opportunity came from Open Lunar Foundation and will put M17 lab into a highly capable category from the start. All of us associated with M17 would like to recognize the OpenRTX project. This team is a vital part of the M17 ecosystem and has done a significant amount of highly technical work to enable M17 on the MD-380 HT. OpenRTX has contributed a lot of engineering work, verification, validation, and lab tests for M17.

https://m17project.org/

https://openrtx.org/#/

Open Lunar Foundation and ORI collaborated on an SBIR grant application for funding targeting LunaNet in January 2021. While our application for funding was not successful, the feedback from the reviewers was positive and very constructive. The process for applying was clear, the technical work in preparing the application lined up with all of ORI’s goals for P4DX, and the teamwork with OLF was excellent.

https://www.openlunar.org/

We attempted to apply for a STTR with Tek Terrain LLC for opportunistic positioning and ranging using LEO signals in mid-October 2021, but we were not able to complete the application in time. We look forward to the next opportunity to work with a for-profit on something like this, as there are dozens of opportunities through a variety of government agencies for research and development. This particular project would have put some significant work into the public domain during Phase 1 of the grant.

We have an opening on our board of directors. Our co-founder Ben Hilburn has stepped down from the board. Thank you very much to Ben for helping found and build ORI. We welcome you to a (much less demanding) senior advisor role.

If you have a recommendation for someone to invite, or you would like to volunteer for this role, then get in touch to start the process. There are a few IRS limitations on who can be on the board to prevent conflicts of interest. No relatives of current board members, for example.

Current board is listed at: https://www.openresearch.institute/board-of-directors/

Our open source workers/employment initiative is called Engineers General. Two grant proposals were made to ARDC after a series of productive meetings with their staff. The initiative got a lot of positive feedback. All of ARDC’s feedback was incorporated into a set of revised grant requests that were re-submitted in October 2021.

We have 6 additional resumes that have been submitted to us. We have received a very large amount of interest in this initiative. Information from IEEE salary surveys, informational interviews with open source workers, and combing through peer reviewed papers resulted in the hypothesis of Engineers General, and all of this information was communicated to ARDC in support of the grant requests.

ORI board has the capacity, capability, and experience to manage contracted workers, and there is a population of highly qualified people that want to work in open source.

We do not have a timeline on when we will hear back from ARDC. P4DX took 11 months to approve. The ITAR legal work funding wasn’t pressing since the funding application followed completion of the work. The AmbaSat Inspired Sensors grant application was folded into P4DX at some point during its review process.

Rent-a-GEO was submitted in October 2019, and there has not been a final answer from ARDC about that proposal as of today. Rent-a-GEO is now down to ~2.5 years left on the offer of 5 years discounted rental of the transponder. This is closer to 2 because the team assembled for Rent-a-GEO would have to be rebuilt.

For those unfamiliar with this project proposal, it would enable a variety of GEO development work over useful space channels with a footprint that covers the continental United States. We did obtain a private pledge of funding for the rental due to the urgency with the lifetime of the resource coming to an end, and we have communicated this pledge of funding to the vendor handling the transponder rental. However, there are substantial contingencies with this funding source, and the vendor has a lot of challenges that they are dealing with. Negotiations are slow. I’ll keep working on this until EchoStar9 is turned off. In the meantime, we have had a series of successful experiments in Europe.

We are headquartered in California, USA. According to Cal Non-Profits, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to helping California 501(c)(3)s, they really do not know of any other organizations like ORI (or Open Lunar Foundation). We are quite rare. The vast majority of non-profits in CA (and across the US) are devoted to health and human services. Non-profits heavily dominate “last mile” services delivery in the US, and there’s a wealth of information about them and advice on how to operate. We have taken advantage of as much as we can all the advice given by Cal Non-Profits, and will continue to rely upon them for guidelines and checklists and statistics about the non-profit sector.

Almost all of the science and technology non-profits are private foundations. Almost all of the research institutes in this category have a single very large source of money, have paid staff, and are clearly dedicated to a mutually beneficial relationship with commercial consumers. This is a very different way of operating from ORI, which is registered as a public charity.

And, the way we have been funded directly impacts this status as a public charity. 501(c)(3)s like ORI are required to have diverse funding. We have to comply with what’s called a “public support test” that kicks in after our fifth year of operation. We’ve been around three years and have two more to go before this test is applied. While we did come very close to passing this test in 2020, we will not pass it for 2021. The specific test is that 33.3% of our funding must come from what are called public sources. Technically this means at least 33.3% of donations must be given by donors who give less than 2% of the nonprofit’s overall receipts. That 2% test means that each non-profit’s donation numbers will be different, depending on the overall receipts.

With ARDC being our primary funding source, all of the other sources amounted to at most 30% in 2020. In 2021, the vast majority of funding came from ARDC, putting the percentage from other sources down much further. A quick calculation today shows other sources of funding coming in at most 24%. Given the 2% rule, that number is in reality lower.

If we had just one unusually large grant from ARDC in our financial history, then that would be ok. The IRS lets you ignore one unusually large grant. You can punch that one out of your public support test calculations.

One can argue that all of the money from ARDC should count as unusually large, and all recipients out there doing tower trailers and buying equipment for mesh networks and university club shacks shouldn’t have to worry about this at all.

The amateur community has never sourced or sunk large amounts of money like this. Hams have a reputation for being tight-fisted with money. Frugality is a virtue that we ourselves value and employ, as described earlier in this letter in the way we’ve extracted several “extra” features from the P4DX grant money that a less motivated organization would not bother to do.

A step function of money of the magnitude that ARDC has, showing up in the amateur radio community, cannot easily be matched or diluted. ARDC principals have heard this from community members with philanthropic experience from the get go.

For almost any amateur radio organization, outside of the very largest, diverse sources of money on the order of an ARDC grant simply do not exist. This means that ham non-profits can take one large grant from ARDC without much trouble or effect on their status, but that’s it. The vast majority of ham clubs and organizations file nothing more than a postcard with the IRS every year. Above $50,000 in gross receipts and then they have to file the full 990. A large influx of money on an ecosystem of organizations that have never had access to it before includes both negative and positive effects.

For organizations like ORI that fully intended to work with ARDC for the long haul, this puts a huge additional fundraising burden on the leadership. Since ORI has ruled out selling memberships, the fundraising alternatives are even more challenging in an environment where a highly successful ham club auction raises $400.

So what happens when your public charity fails the public support test? Well, actually, nothing too horrible, but only if you are prepared for it. You are, after a process that does have a subjective component, converted from a public charity to a private foundation. The downside is that you have to re-file all your taxes as a private foundation going back all five years. There are some upsides. Private foundations do not have to follow some of the rules that public charities are required to comply with.

As soon as we figured out we were well on our way to being converted into a private foundation, which was mid-May 2021, we told ARDC. This was “news to them”. After talking it over with ARDC staff, we then hired a non-profit law specialist for advice (at ORI expense), wrote everything down, and came up with a plan. ARDC could either fund ARDC service programs that ORI would execute, and it would not “count against us”, or ORI could simply plan on becoming a Private Operating Foundation associated with ARDC. These options were proposed to ARDC staff. There was email back and forth and several zoom calls. The answer was eventually “no” on ARDC running Service Programs, but “yes” on ORI becoming a Private Operating Foundation associated with ARDC.

Problem solved! We had a party to celebrate. The feelings of IRS doom are kind of a big deal for a relatively new non-profit. We viewed this as being “hired”, in a way, by ARDC.

This solution held until October 2021. It was no longer clear that ARDC wanted this type of relationship. Both the “run Service Programs that ORI executes” approach and the “Private Operating Foundation associated with ARDC” approaches require a lot of communication and work. ARDC was not set up for either of these solutions. ARDC operates very differently from ORI. It does not have the same management structure or style, and it does not communicate like we do. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t “impedance match” to make up for these differences. It’s unreasonable to expect them to change.

So, in November of 2021, the board of ORI and other senior advisers with non-profit and foundation experience recommended reversing the “conversion plan”. This means raising enough money to bring the ratio back up above the public support test limit to stay a 501(c)(3). The fundraising goal, as of today, is $150,000. This money has to come from diverse and much smaller sources. This must be raised over the next two years. It will be substantially more administrative and executive work to remain independent, but it’s how we were founded and how we have operated all along. The path forward is clear enough. The series of decisions during this process took a large amount of time and energy from May until November, but it was well worth the effort. Decisions about what type of non-profit organization ORI is or becomes have enormous impact on what we do and how well we are able to do it.

$150,000 (or more) is a large amount of money to raise in small amounts, especially within the amateur radio community. Have some advice? Want to get involved raising the money? Have another solution? Welcome aboard.

The fact that we exist and are successful in amateur radio communications R&D is very unusual. This means that we are vulnerable and it means we have more work to do, every year, to remain operational. Your support is vital for success.

Thank you to everyone that is pulling for us to succeed! We are looking forward to 2022 and welcome your ideas, time, talent, treasure, and advice.

-Michelle W5NYV
CEO ORI

Floating Vivado License for FPGA Work Purchased – Will be Available for Community Use

Thanks to the generous support of Yasme Foundation, ARRL Foundation, and many individual Open Research Institute supporters, ORI has purchased a full floating Vivado license for FPGA work. This includes the System Generator for DSP.

We are testing a setup that will make team and community use of this license possible. This is a big step forward from our current situation and will greatly accelerate FGPA design and test.

The first step was setting up a license server at a donated data center. Many thanks to Nick KN6NK for offering the time, resources, and expertise to get this working.

The second step, being tested right now, is using GitHub as a directory service for adding users and keys.

The goal is for users of the license to be able to add themselves with minimal admin overhead while asserting some reasonable control over access.

GitHub provides a way for users to get public keys. The work required of us is to script user management and periodically sync key management.

Thank you to EJ Kreiner for helping test and refine this community asset. We anticipate being able to support as many amateur technical communities and projects as possible, to get the greatest possible use from the license.

Special thanks to ARRL and Yasme. We would not be able to afford this investment without their support.

Yasme Foundation Generously Awards Grant to ORI

Yasme Foundation Generously Awards a $30,000 Grant to Support the Open Research Institute (ORI) Amateur Radio Satellite Service Research and Development Program

ORI, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to open source research and development in amateur radio, has been awarded a $30,000 grant from the Yasme Foundation. This grant completes the Phase 1 fundraising campaign and allows ORI’s communications prototype work for geosynchronous and interplanetary amateur radio satellites to proceed.

Combined with the ARRL Foundation’s recent maximum grant of $3,000, the $14,000 in proceeds from ORI’s successful Trans-Ionospheric electronic badge fundraiser, and many deeply appreciated individual donations, a total of $51,490 was raised for Phase 1 of the Digital Multiplex Transponder research and development program.

A project that will directly and immediately benefit from this work includes the Amateur Radio Exploration (AREx) project, brought to you by Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS).

AREx is devoted to designing and building amateur radio equipment for the Lunar Orbiting Platform Gateway project. This lunar orbiting station will have open source broadband microwave amateur equipment and affordable open source ground stations. AREx is not limited to Gateway, as there are many other opportunities under consideration that can re-use all of the work.

All work completed by ORI is made available to the general public at no cost.

The Yasme Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation organized to support scientific and educational projects related to amateur radio, including DXing (long distance communication) and the introduction and promotion of amateur radio in developing countries. Yasme supports various projects relating to amateur radio, with an emphasis on developing amateur radio in emerging countries and encouraging youth participation in amateur radio.

The Yasme Foundation makes supporting grants to individuals and organizations providing or creating useful services for the amateur radio community. Regardless of originality or novelty, Yasme supports these programs in order to further the development of amateur radio around the world.

The global perspective and commitment to authentic, accessible, and sustainable amateur radio training and experience puts Yasme Foundation into the rare category of organizations that provide true and broad public benefit.

Find out more about the Yasme Foundation here:
https://www.yasme.org/

ARISS is the home for AREx. ARISS can be found on the web at
https://www.ariss.org/

JAMSAT supports AREx and has partnered with ORI to work on the Gateway Ground Station, which also directly benefits from this grant. JAMSAT can be found on the web at
https://www.jamsat.or.jp

Open Research Institute supports AREx and open source amateur radio research & development, primarily microwave.

Find ORI on the web at
https://openresearch.institute

Documentation about the Phase 1 transponder program can be found on the ORI website at the following links:

Overview:
https://openresearch.institute/2019/09/27/open-research-institute-phase-4-space-grant-application-overview/

Technical proposal:
https://openresearch.institute/2020/01/10/p4xt-digital-multiplexing-transponder-project-program-proposal/

Phase 1 statement of work can be found at the summary document linked below.

Summary:
https://openresearch.institute/2020/02/21/summary-proposal-open-research-institute-phase-1-p4xt/

Digital Multiplexing Transponder Workshop Guide and Link to Audio

DMT-workshop-mp3-guide

The document linked above is a Guide to navigating the Audio Recording of the P4XT Digital Multiplexing Transponder Workshop.

The workshop was held Sunday 9 February 2020 (3PM – 7PM) at Starter Studio’s Conference room in downtown Orlando, 4.5 miles from the HamCation venue.

A full audio recording (330MB MP3) is available at https://www.dropbox.com/s/9k065i5kqj3i49w/200209_1316.mp3?dl=0.

American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Awards Grant to ORI

Good news!

American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has Generously Awarded a $3,000 Grant to Support the Open Research Institute (ORI) Amateur Radio Satellite Service Research and Development Program

ORI, a 501(c)(3) dedicated to open source research and development in amateur radio, has been awarded a $3,000 grant from the ARRL Foundation. This grant, the maximum amount, will be immediately applied to Phase 1 of the Digital Multiplex Transponder research and development program. This grant allows hardware prototypes for broadband microwave digital payloads to proceed much more quickly. All work completed by ORI is made available to the general public at no cost.

A project that will directly and immediately benefit from this work is the Amateur Radio Exploration (AREx) project, brought to you by Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS). ARISS is a project sponsored by the Amateur Radio Satellite Corporation (AMSAT).

AREx is devoted to designing and building amateur radio equipment for the Lunar Orbiting Platform Gateway project. This lunar orbiting station will have open source broadband microwave amateur equipment and affordable open source ground stations. AREx is not limited to Gateway, as there are many other opportunities under consideration that can re-use what is designed and built.

Documentation about the transponder program that this award supports can be found on the ORI website at the following links.

Overview:
https://openresearch.institute/2019/09/27/open-research-institute-phase-4-space-grant-application-overview/

Technical proposal:
https://openresearch.institute/2020/01/10/p4xt-digital-multiplexing-transponder-project-program-proposal/

Phase 1 statement of work can be found at the summary document linked below.

Summary:
https://openresearch.institute/2020/02/21/summary-proposal-open-research-institute-phase-1-p4xt/

Established in 1973 by the American Radio Relay League, Inc. (ARRL) as an independent and separate 501(c)(3) organization, the ARRL Foundation administers programs to support the Amateur Radio community.

Funded entirely by the generous contributions of radio amateurs and friends, ARRL Foundation administers programs for Amateur Radio award scholarships for higher education, award grants for Amateur Radio projects, and award special Amateur Radio program grants for The Victor C. Clark Youth Incentive Program and The Jesse A. Bieberman Meritorious Membership Program.

Find out more about the ARRL Foundation here: http://www.arrl.org/the-arrl-foundation

Here are some of the organizations that will appreciate your time, energy, effort, and enthusiasm.

ARISS is the home for AREx. ARISS can be found on the web at
https://www.ariss.org/

AMSAT North American is the home for ARISS. AMSAT is active in AREx in multiple roles and can be found on the web at
https://amsat.org

JAMSAT supports AREx and has partnered with ORI to work on the Gateway Ground Station. JAMSAT can be found on the web at
https://www.jamsat.or.jp

Open Research Institute supports AREx and open source amateur radio research & development, primarily microwave.

Find ORI on the web at
https://openresearch.institute

One Year Anniversary of Open Research Institute 501(c)(3)

March 6th is Open Research Institute’s 501(c)(3) anniversary. As it’s our first birthday, we are going to celebrate!

ORI is incorporated in California, USA. There are a lot of statistics available for CA non-profits from https://calnonprofits.org/ which is an organization that provides support to directors and officers and the general public about the non-profit landscape. Here’s the highlights from their recent report that are relevant to what we are doing, followed by how we fit in and where we can go next.

There are 27,317 nonprofits with paid staff in California, and another 65,250 (70%) that are all-volunteer organizations, for a total of 92,567 active nonprofits.

We are all volunteer, with no paid staff, so that puts us into the larger of the two categories.

11.7% of non-profits are categorized as “public benefit”, which is what we do and is how we are set up. Specifically, we are a scientific and technology research institute. We’re part of a very small group of non-profits that fall into the public benefit category. Definition in the paragraph below:

“In this report, three common nonprofit organizational classifications (mutual benefit, public societal benefit, and otherwise uncategorized nonprofits) have been merged to create this category. Organizations include those working with civil rights and community development, advocacy groups, neighborhood associations, business leagues, civic and service clubs, science and technology organizations, credit unions, and public grantmaking foundations.”

So, how many other non-profits are like us? I don’t know yet, but I’m asking calnonprofits.org how to find out! Maybe we could all help each other better if we knew about each other and what we were doing.

California nonprofits employ a significantly higher percentage of women and a slightly higher percentage of people of color than the overall civilian workforce.

Contrary to common perception, the largest sources of nonprofit revenue are fees for service and government grants and contracts. We are different here, since 100% of our revenue to date is individual donations. We now have $18,875. I’m working as hard as I can to grow our finances.

Volunteerism in CA has undergone some changes since 2014, the last time that this particular study was completed. The percentage of adult volunteers has risen slightly, from 24% to 25%, but the number of hours per volunteer is down by 25%. What are the underlying reasons for this? Volunteerism is difficult when it’s crowded out by so many other demands on time. Activity in organizations and associations has been in decline since the 1950s. There’s whole books written about the theories as to why.

A lot of what we do requires skills that are earned through years of education, training, workplace, self-training, or avocational effort. While our mission is to demystify and make accessible advanced engineering concepts, we don’t dumb it down. We break it down. Regardless, it’s still hard work and requires real commitment and a willingness to fail along the way. That’s a lot to ask of volunteers, but our community has delivered. The number of hours donated to the effort is deeply appreciated, especially given the context of the statistics in this particular and admittedly geographically limited report. California trends don’t necessarily mirror the rest of the world, but I do hear a lot of the same sort of thing from a wide variety of volunteer driven organizations. Everyone seems to be doing more with less and under harder conditions.

That’s why it’s so important to make it easy to volunteer, reduce as many risks as possible from regulatory and legal points of view, and take on things worth doing that are ambitious and rewarding. We have done our best to do exactly this – especially over the past year! We have written clear developer and participant policies, we have a code of conduct, and we filed a Commodity Jurisdiction request to clarify how we fit into ITAR and EAR. Our technical progress has been steady and we are at the point where we can build functional prototypes.

If you have feedback or suggestions on how we have chosen to support, protect, and enable volunteers then please share.

The report states that non-profits with large budgets have more access to government funding and rely on it as a significant source of revenue. The findings suggest that non-profits can not “grow large” without government funding. There is a big difference between small non-profits, like us, and larger non-profits, like many healthcare organizations. Healthcare is by far the largest category of non-profits in CA, and they get their money from different places.

How big do we need to be to succeed? Do we have to go after government money to achieve that goal, given the realities of other non-profits?

Foundations were not the focus of the study, but the report talks about them for several reasons. First, CA is a net exporter of foundation grant money, and the report lists the top 25 foundations. The total assets of all ~7,000 CA foundations are $137.5 billion and they gave away a total of $9.5 billion. These numbers are for 2019. The single largest foundation is Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which gave away nearly a billion dollars *alone*. San Francisco is far and away the hot spot in CA in terms of foundation dollars generated and many other categories in the study.

For 90% of nonprofits, foundation funds represent 50% or less of their revenue. For the “bottom” 50% of non-profits, foundations fund less than 10% of revenue. Only 5% of non-profits get more than 75% of their revenue from foundations. The perception that foundations fund non-profits is widespread, but the statistics in CA do not bear that out. Where is all the foundation money going? Like we see with a lot of other resource allocation patterns, most of the money goes to a few organizations.

What does all of this mean for us going forward?

If we can’t raise additional funds for the *products* that we want to build, then those things won’t happen. The financial needs are greater for the open source payload part than ground. However, without a payload or groundsat, the ground station design simply doesn’t work. We have a product envisioned. It’s the right time to step up and deliver. This the “development” part of “research and development”.

Yes, we’ve done very well building ORI from scratch and raising significant amount of money in a short amount of time. We’ve also had fun in the process, with very successful outreach events and the Trans-Ionospheric badges.

Fundraising was not at all what I thought I would be doing when I agreed to come aboard as a technical volunteer for Round Two of “build a GEO for amateur radio” several years ago, but addressing it like any other challenge, building a team, and tackling it with optimism and a willingness to learn has had good results.

Other organizations related to us generate revenue in other ways. It’s important to talk about what those strategies are and whether we should adopt the same methods. For example, a lot of amateur radio technical and advocacy organizations have member fees and generate income that way. We don’t do this, and have not since the very beginning of ORI, for several reasons.

First, the amount of time required to manage and account for paid memberships is non-trivial.

Second, paid members have expectations that must be met. Members expect services that must be delivered. We are not a member service organization, we’re a research institute. Our “members” are projects, and the expectation is that we help with scientific and technical goals. Member services, newsletters, trinkets, swag, books, producing social events, contests, and conferences are wonderful things that we love to see happen. ORI doesn’t *regularly* do those things because scientific and technical work is the very firm focus. This doesn’t mean we won’t have a conference, if it serves the research institute mission. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have a t-shirt, another badge project, or a newsletter, if that serves the research institute mission. The functions and benefits of a membership organization were what I thought we would be getting when the Phase 4 Ground project was part of AMSAT-NA. Now that we are a Member Society of AMSAT, over time, we should start seeing support, promotion, and cooperation. We are also associated with Open Source Initiative as a Member Affiliate of OSI.

Third, I believe that ORI must remain open to all, without the “us” and “them” that often arises when memberships are purchased. Individuals are “members” of ORI as soon as they show up and participate in the community at any level. There is no process of “joining”. Associate Membership, the only explicit membership status, is free for the asking and will stay that way. The way we’re organized and the practice of radical inclusion should be very familiar to anyone looking at open source technical projects and how they are commonly structured.

This structure (completely open, collaborative flat leadership structure, no membership dues) is common and highly effective, but it also opens us up to significant risks. Burnout of leaders, no easily distributed tokens or artifacts of membership to build pack bonding or loyalty, we give up “easy” financial income, and the repercussions of the intermittent nature of volunteering. These are the facts on the ground and we do whatever it takes to deal with them.

If we converted to a membership organization, we would gain some reliable revenue, but would give up a large part of what makes us extremely successful, adaptable, agile, and accessible. We’re here to supercharge organizations that don’t have a pure technical focus. Over time, I expect organizations that benefit from our work to help us in places where we need assistance, such as fundraising, marketing, promotion, and publishing.

Research and Development will always be a sink for money and will always be higher risk than delivering customary or traditional member services. Research and Development needs fearless funding.

In our first year, we have applied for several grants that would financially support the first phase of the transponder build. The foundations approached are in the amateur radio space and their values and conditions seem to align almost perfectly with us. You can read the proposal documents on the website.

We have early indications of valuable in-kind contributions from companies that want us to succeed. We have excellent relationships with universities and engineering firms. We’ve made a dramatic contribution to testing the regulatory process as well as enumerating ambitious yet achievable technical goals. We have the ingredients for success. Our second year will be as crucial as the first in terms of deciding our long-term trajectory.

Thank you all for a fantastic first year!

-Michelle W5NYV

Open Research Institute ITAR/EAR policy work – 2019 Update

Open Research Institute has a significant update to our ongoing amateur radio satellite communications policy work. This letter describes the work and includes a request for assistance.

The International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) are two United States export control laws that affect the manufacturing, sales and distribution of technology.

Open Research Institute (ORI) operates using the public domain carve-outs in ITAR and EAR.

Our current policy is documented on our website. Here’s the direct links:
https://openresearch.institute/itar-and-ear-strategy/ and https://openresearch.institute/developer-and-participant-policies/

We believe these policies are sufficient.

However,

1) Some potential funding sources want to see a formal legal opinion.

2) Some organizations have made allegations that everything we do is illegal (and unethical, fattening, stupid, etc.).

Our choices were to continue insisting we are right, or to be effective.

I chose to be effective.

Therefore, in July 2019 Bruce Perens went out and found several law firms that were aligned with our goals and values. We selected one recommended by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and began work.

After the first round of conversation in August 2019, we had decided to 1) pay for a formal legal opinion and 2) apply for EAR certification with the US Department of Commerce. This would certify that the open source work we were doing was A-ok with the US government.

There was a delay in beginning this work. I stepped up to lead the effort and initiated another round of conversation with the law firm.

This second round of conversation refined the goal.

My highest priority is ensuring risk reduction to our amazing volunteers. The open source and public domain carve outs deliver enormous risk reduction and offer wonderful international opportunities for meaningful collaboration. But, just like with proprietary ITAR/EAR work, you have to know what you’re doing in order to unlock all the benefits.

A formal legal opinion was still desired and will be obtained. That has not changed. But, instead of going for EAR Certification, which we considered to be an easier application process, we decided we would go for the top tier, and apply for ITAR Commodity Jurisdiction from the US Department of State.

If successful, then this finding solves EAR certification and also better defines a relationship with the Department of Defense, which is the third major entity involved in regulating the amateur radio satellite work we are doing. A Commodity Jurisdiction is widely considered to be the gold standard for work related to ITAR.

ORI is asking that our programs of work be found explicitly *not* subject to ITAR.

This application is appropriately lengthy and complex. This effort is not without risk. Instead of just continuing to happily do what we’ve been doing, which we believe to be entirely legal and above-board, we are instead deliberately attracting attention, scrutiny, and judgement.

Why do this? Because others have not. The trinity of fear-uncertainty-doubt must be confronted and defeated. Open source is the way forward for amateur radio satellite work.

The cover letter from the law firm has been delivered to us. This cover letter contains the draft of the source material for the application. We also have a copy of ITAR Category XV (Spacecraft and Related Articles), DDTC CJ Determinations list (to study the list of successful applications) and a copy of the Commerce Control List.

We will review and if necessary revise the cover letter, until it accurately and completely represents our work. Then we will prepare our application and then we will file it.

Let’s talk about expenses. In August, we estimated the effort would cost $50,000. Current estimates, to get us up to the point of being able to apply, are much less than that at $5,000. I can pay for this.

ORI currently has $13,041 in the bank. These funds are intended for hardware development and boards, and not for legal. If the expenses end up exceeding my ability to pay, then I will ask for help. ORI hardware funds will not be diverted to cover legal costs.

What do we need?

There is a section in the application where supporting organizations can contribute supportive comments.

I ask all AMSAT organizations to seriously consider providing a statement of strong support for Open Research Institute’s Commodity Jurisdiction request. Describing the work that would be enabled by safe, sane, and legal legal open source collaboration would be of great benefit to this application.

I humbly ask ARRL, ARISS, Libre Space Foundation, and any other group that has an interest in this work to consider formally supporting this effort with a statement that can be included with the request.

Our law firm can provide some guidance on statements if necessary. We deeply appreciate any assistance provided.

Thank you all for the support, encouragement, comment, critique, questions, and motivation.

-Michelle Thompson W5NYV
w5nyv@arrl.net 858 229 3399