Apogee View – September/October 2020

September/October 2020
Robert Bankston, KE4AL, President

Onward and Upward

I am in my first week as AMSAT’s 13th President.  First, I want to thank each of you who reached out to congratulate me — the response has been overwhelming. Next, I would like to thank Clayton Coleman, W5PFG, our now Immediate Past President.  While his tenure as AMSAT President may have been short, Clayton provided the necessary leadership when we needed it most.  Finally, I would like to thank our board of directors for electing me as president.  You have assembled a great management team to continue AMSAT on its path — onward and upward.

I could ask for no better time to be at AMSAT’s helm.  Our Engineering Team, under the leadership of Vice-President of Engineering, Gerald Buxton, N0JY, just delivered RadFXSat-2 (Fox-1E) to our NASA Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) XX launch provider Virgin Orbit, with an expected launch before year-end, and they are making great progress on our GOLF satellite program.

Alan Johnston, KU2Y, AMSAT Vice President of Educational Relations, and his team have done an excellent job on our CubeSat Simulator project, an improved tool for STEM education and demonstrations.  Our partnership with ARISS-USA is stronger than ever, as we continue our support of Amateur Radio on the International Space Station, and we look forward to what opportunities may come with NASA’s Lunar Gateway amateur radio experiment.

Also, we held the 38th Space Symposium and Annual Membership Meeting online, via Zoom, on October 17th.  While we would have preferred to host the symposium in person, 2020 had other plans for us.  Nonetheless, the symposium was a phenomenal success, thanks to Paul Stoetzer, N8HM, our Executive Vice-President, who put the whole event together, and the wonderful presenters, who captured our attention in sharing their projects with us.  If you were unable to attend the live event, be sure to catch the replay on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=EHDgrI_w8hY.  Again, thanks to Paul for adding the individual presentation links in the description section.  AMSAT members can view and download the Symposium Proceedings on our Member Portal, at launch.amsat.org/Proceedings.

On the Right Path

As I discussed on the AMSAT-BB a few months ago, pending orbital debris mitigation regulations represent the greatest risk to the amateur radio satellite service.  Orbits above 600 kilometers are facing increased scrutiny, with required flight-proven low-risk transfer orbit, long-term reentry, and/or improved move-away-and-stay-away storage options for orbital lifespans more than 25 years.  However, proving you can get there and operate responsibly is not enough.  Every mission is closely evaluated to ensure it serves the greater benefit of all, which currently strongly favors commercial, scientific, and educational interests.

Anyone who successfully launched a satellite into orbit knows that it requires more than just having a dream and a pocketful of money.  Too many amateur satellite projects get left on the drawing board or waste away in a storeroom or garage because those in charge do not take into account everything necessary to get to orbit.  Requirements include a comprehensive understanding of our regulatory challenges, a reputation built on flight-proven experience, and established relationships with all key players in the space industry.  AMSAT brings all those and, more importantly, has a plan to get us there.

Our first step to reaching higher orbit is GOLF-TEE, with its sole purpose to demonstrate the necessary technology to operate above LEO.  GOLF is more than just a catchy acronym for Greater Orbit Larger Footprint. It represents our commitment to return to higher orbits.

In addition, our Executive Vice-President, Paul Stoetzer, N8HM, has led the charge in defending our interests in proposed FCC rulemaking. Paul has already made significant inroads with getting the FCC to remove certain proposed restrictions, but his work is not done. We must remain vigilant. Otherwise, we might end up stuck in a low Earth orbit “penalty box.”

A Sustainable Path Forward

My primary focus as AMSAT President is to ensure AMSAT stays on mission without distraction.  This includes providing our volunteers with a workplace that promotes creativity and provides accessibility within and between integrated project teams.

Up to this point, everything has flowed through our central office and its administrator, Martha.  Moving forward, I plan to implement a cloud-based, collaborative environment that allows everyone on the team to quickly see what is being worked on, who’s working on it, and where it is in the process.  Also, responsible team members and managers will receive electronic notification on any status changes and be able to post questions and/or ask for assistance.

Reducing costs and increasing funding are paramount to any sustainable path forward.  With the board’s unanimous approval to permanently close the AMSAT office and discontinue printing of The AMSAT Journal, we will be able to save over $150,000 per year.  Additionally, we are developing a formal fundraising program for GOLF-TEE and GOLF1 that extends beyond donation buttons on a website and beyond AMSAT’s membership, which will also give us the necessary experience to raise funds for future, higher orbits.

Finally, we have no room for weak links in this sustainable path forward.  Therefore, implementing redundancy and continuity in everything we do, including people, is imperative.  I am instituting a team concept in all critical mission task areas.  This will not only lighten the load for many of our volunteers but also ensure work continues no matter what happens.  AMSAT, being an all-volunteer organization, depends on volunteers, and I am building a team to help take AMSAT to the next level.  Please consider joining us.