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 milesĀ 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