Apogee View – March/April 2017

March/April 2017
Barry Baines, WD4ASW, President

Spring has Sprung!

I write this column the week of March 20 with Major League Baseball starting up in two weeks (April 2) and Hamvention taking place in only eight weeks (May 19-20). Along with the coming of spring, I’d like to share with you some interesting developments taking place for AMSAT.

Fox-1Cliff/D News

First, we are making progress on the launch of Fox-1Cliff and Fox-1D. AMSAT signed an amended contract with Spaceflight, Inc., on March 10 that changes the flight arrangements for our two CubeSats in response to changing circumstances concerning our original agreement with Spaceflight. The opportunity to place our two satellites on the same Falcon 9 Launch is no longer available.

Spaceflight is now making arrangements to fly our satellites on two different launchers: Fox-1Cliff will fly on a SpaceX Falcon-9 SSO-A launch sometime between late Fall 2017 and early 2018, and Fox-1D will fly on a PSLV launch in late Fall 2017 from India.

Our revised agreement maintains our relationship with Spaceflight, where they will provide launch integration services as well as handle export control requirements to allow Fox-1D to be flown from a launch facility outside the United States. Additional details concerning these recent developments appear in Jerry Buxton’s article in the March/April issue of The AMSAT Journal.

When we signed the original launch agreement with Spaceflight in July 2014, we did not expect that the road to actual launch of Fox-1Cliff (and later amending the contract to include Fox-1D) would take the twists and turns that it has over the past year. These developments are beyond AMSAT’s control and of course all of the participants are impacted by “events” that drive actual launches. Under the leadership of VP-Operations Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, and VP-Engineering Jerry Buxton, N0JY, who have been the primary interfaces with Spaceflight, we have been able to secure revised launch opportunities that will serve us well in providing suitable orbits for our two CubeSats. My thanks to both Drew and Jerry for working so diligently with Spaceflight to secure alternative launches.


Under the guidance of Steve Belter, N9IP, AMSAT is preparing for the 2017 Hamvention that will be at a new venue: The Greene County Fairgrounds in Xenia, OH. Along with the new venue is an opportunity to make a different “first impression.” We’re expanding our commercial exhibit space to include eight commercial booths, which will give us additional room to highlight our engineering programs (such as the “five-and-dime” ground station development), education and ARISS. Our booth location will be in the first aisle in Building One. AMSAT will occupy the entire aisle 1 area (booths 1007-1010 and 1107-1110). This arrangement will provide not only more space but allow us to tailor the area to our needs without potential interference from other vendors. A drawing of the exhibit spaces for Building One may be found at http://hamvention.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/BoothsBuilding-1.pdf.

Just as important, the satellite demo area (led by Paul Stoetzer, N8HM) will be located just outside Building One on the same side of the building as our exhibit space. In essence, the demo area will be sharing the front wall with the AMSAT exhibit area, making it easier to direct people to demos and providing potential opportunities for improved support services for the satellite demo team. Our social activities will continue as we’ve done during previous Hamventions. Activities include an informal social get together at Ticket’s Pub in Fairborn on Thursday night. The annual AMSAT/TAPR (or TAPR/AMSAT) dinner takes place at the Kohler Presidential Center Friday evening, as in the past. TAPR President Steve Bible, N7HPR has invited Carl Laufer of Auckland, New Zealand, to be our banquet speaker. Carl is the creator and author of the extremely popular RTL-SDR Blog, author of the book, “The Hobbyist Guide to RTL-SDR,” and supplier of the RTL-SDR dongle. The RTL-SDR dongle is a low-cost, receive-only SDR receiver that hobbyists around the world are using for a variety of radio receiver projects, and Carl blogs about them at http://www.rtl-sdr.com/. Details about Carl’s talk already should be posted on the TAPR and AMSAT websites. Those wishing to attend the dinner will need to purchase their tickets via the AMSAT Store (store.amsat.org).

An AMSAT Forum is scheduled Saturday morning from 1045-1215. Our moderator is AMSAT VP-Educational Relations Joe Spier, K6WAO. We’re currently finalizing our speaker/presentation list. Expect presentations concerning the Fox Program, ground station development, ARISS, educational outreach, and operational news/updates. I’m sure it will be a jammed-packed 90 minutes.

AMSAT will offer new materials at the booth this year, including the 2017 edition of Getting Started with Amateur Satellites as well as the latest in “satellite fashions.” We’ll once again provide a “Beginner’s Corner” where questions will be answered about amateur radio satellites and amateur radio satellite communications.

Hamvention is amateur radio’s premier gathering in North America. AMSAT’s presence is important because it not only provides a venue to interact with our members and those interested in amateur radio satellites, but it also provides an opportunity to engage those that may not currently be active with satellites. Our mantra is “Keeping Amateur Radio In Space,” but we also need to be diligent about that mantra in front of thousands of amateurs who attend Hamvention. Our Hamvention presence builds awareness, generates revenue, and lays the foundation for future support.

Strategic Planning

In a previous “Apogee View” column (Sep/Oct 2016) I noted that the AMSAT leadership would be undertaking a Strategic Planning process in 2017. As I noted in that article: “As the Board is responsible for the strategic direction of AMSAT (while the President and Senior Leadership Team handle day-today ‘tactical’ affairs), there is a need for the Board to step back and take time to take a serious and reflective look at the future using a strategic planning process that encompasses a variety of areas. The AMSAT organization that exists today is not the same organization that existed in 2008 when I became President. Indeed, most of the Board and Senior Leadership Team members that serve today were not in those positions of responsibility back in 2008.

Adding to the need for such a process is that the Fox-1 program will soon complete the last of the series (as currently planned) in late 2017 or early 2018. While Engineering is working towards creating the ‘five and dime’ ground terminal that has potential application in a variety of uses (including Phase-4B, CubeQuest Challenge with Ragnarok Industries, and a HEO 6U CubeSat concept), it is certainly appropriate for the Board to take time in the coming year to establish a multi-year plan that builds on our accomplishments and encourages the organization to ‘push the envelope’ subject to the resources and capabilities that currently exist within AMSAT as well as recognizes the perceived impact of externalities that influence the organization. The last thorough Strategic Plan was established in 2004 with an update in 2009 when the Board made the decision to accept the recommendations of the Engineering Task Force (led by VP-Engineering Tony Monteiro, AA2TX) to establish the Fox-1 program. Given that it has been seven years since the Board took the time to think through a strategic plan, it is time to focus on it again.

After the Board discussion in Galveston, we considered how best to manage the strategic planning process. A key consideration was finding an outside facilitator to help guide the conversation and establish the process for the Board to utilize as a means of coming to a consensus on what’s important for AMSAT’s. We selected Tony Silbert, MSOD of Spartina Consulting, to serve as our facilitator. See: spartinaconsulting.com. Two aspects of Tony’s approach were important to us: (1) building on our strengths and our 47 years of distinguished history, and (2) creating “ownership” for making the strategic plan successful. In other words, those that are fully engaged in the creation of a strategic plan are more likely to make the commitment for implementation. A key consideration was finding someone who could encourage full participation by those in attendance and to create the environment that would encourage frank and honest conversation and to exchange ideas by all participants. The end result is “buy-in” by those who participate.

Those familiar with strategic planning development will remember “SWOT” (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) as the mechanism for evaluating internal and external considerations. Typically, most time is spent evaluating the negatives as defined by “weaknesses” and “threats.” In essence, that means looking at past problems and barriers that can stymie creative thinking and innovation.

Tony’s approach was a little different. He calls it SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations and Results). Its focus is on the desired future, building upon the organization’s recognized capabilities. Focusing on the positives enhances creativity and possibility thinking so more sustainable ideas will be created and shared within the strategic planning process. It also creates mechanisms for moving forward and measuring the results to evaluate overall success:

Strengths: What are our greatest assets?

Opportunities: What can we improve, even innovate?

Aspirations: What is our preferred future?

Results: How do we know it; how do we see it? (measurable results)

The AMSAT Strategic Planning Kickoff meeting was held in Orlando, FL, the weekend of March 3, 2017. A planning team was assembled — Keith Baker, KB1SF, Drew Glasbrenner, KO4MA, Paul Stoetzer, N8HM, and Clayton Coleman, W5PFG — in early February to work with Tony Silbert on developing the agenda for the two-day session and to ensure that key outcomes and topics were identified and shared with Tony in advance of the meeting. They also worked with Tony on developing the materials to be used by the participants during the two-day session.

An anonymous benefactor made a donation to AMSAT to cover Tony’s consulting fee. Along with the board (including Alternates) and senior officers who are not board members, we also invited several additional participants. Two of our invitees from outside of AMSAT (but who are well recognized in the amateur or satellite community) were subsequently unable to attend, but we did benefit significantly from the participation of Joe Kornowski, KB6IGK (AMSAT Journal Editor) and Gould Smith, WA4SXM (former board member and former VP-User Services), along with Joe Spier, K6WAO (VP-Educational Relations) and Dave Taylor, W8AAS (ARISS International Delegate). Dave filled in for Frank Bauer, KA3HDO (VP-Human Space Flight), who could not attend, as it was important that ARISS be represented in this process.

I also invited Dave Jordan, AA4KN, to attend the sessions as our “scribe,” responsible for capturing all of the thoughts/outcomes that were discussed, as well as ensuring that any ideas put into the “parking lot” were not lost. Significant details captured on boards needed documenting. Dave spent two weeks after the meeting putting together a document for the participants to use as a reference of what transpired in Orlando. My thanks go to Dave for his diligence in documenting a very intense and fast-paced weekend of activity.

Six basic areas were identified during our strategy kickoff session:

  1. Satellite Innovation
  2. Membership Engagement & Communication
  3. Developing Revenue Streams
  4. Education/Partnerships
  5. IT and Web Development
  6. Succession Planning

Each area has a team leader, and I expect those team leaders will be reaching outside the senior leadership to ask individual AMSAT members to participate in their respective teams.

As I write this, the Planning Group will be meeting with Mr. Silbert to review the document that Dave created and ensure that we place proper focus on next steps and establishing expectations.

My perception is that everyone who participated at the Orlando meeting was impressed by the process used and thought that the session was time and money well spent. Feedback about the weekend was very positive regarding how well Tony led the process, as well as how participants departed the meeting feeling energized and excited about the future of AMSAT. The challenge is to take the momentum that was generated at Orlando and amplify it with your support. Translating ideas into milestones and results requires focus and significant effort. In future issues of The AMSAT Journal, we will share progress that is being made as well as how you can engage and contribute to the future of AMSAT.