Apogee View

September/October 2021
Robert Bankston, KE4AL, President

This issue of The AMSAT Journal marks my first year as AMSAT President, so I thought I would take this opportunity to give you an update of what we’ve been working on, where we are now, and what we will focus on in the coming year.

Our Engineering team have been making great progress on our GOLF program. Under the leadership of our Vice-President of Engineering, Jerry Buxton N0JY, our volunteer engineers have worked tirelessly to develop, prototype, and test GOLF’s systems. I thank each and every one of them for donating their time and expertise.

Not to be outdone, our Educational Relations team completed their beta testing on their CubeSat Simulator and launched their CubeSat Simulator printed circuit board set on the AMSAT Store. Dr. Alan Johnston, KU2Y, and his team have done a phenomenal job. In addition, as announced at this year’s Symposium, they have not only developed and released the new CubeSatSim Lite version, but Dr. Johnston and his team have begun to experiment with high altitude balloon launches to take the CubeSatSim concept to the next level of educational initiatives.

Behind the scenes, we have been busy modernizing back office tasks, finding ways to more efficiently do business, and ensuring the AMSAT machine works run smoothly. To be honest, AMSAT without Martha, has been a significant challenge. Our modernization efforts, which really began with the May 2020 launch of our online member management system, has been the key to our overall success this year. Transforming a 52-year old organization from brick and mortar to virtual was no easy task and not without a few hiccups along the way, but we are better positioned moving forward. It was a sad day packing up the AMSAT office in Kensington, Maryland in May and putting everything in storage. To touch all that history reaffirmed why we do what we do. I look forward to both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

AMSAT is in a very solid position from both a financial and a membership perspective. We have a strong fiscal foundation, a great governance and management team, generous volunteers who freely donate their time and expertise, and a diverse membership base who truly care about keeping amateur radio in space.

Financially, we are on a solid footing, with over $950,000 in cash and liquid investments. Our revenues are down from last year, as is the rest of the U.S. economy; however, we are on track to exceed our profitability margin over last year because of the cost-cutting measure we implemented, In 2020, $0.82 of every dollar went to pay overhead. In 2021, that amount was reduced to $0.56 for every dollar we brought in – a 31% reduction. This means a lot more of your membership dues and revenues we develop from other sources are going towards building satellites and expanding our educational efforts.

AMSAT membership has consistently been over 4,000 the past year, with 4,045 current members as of writing this report. AMSAT’s membership is diverse, representing 76 countries around the world. While each comes for varied reasons (builders and operators, scientists and educators, HEO and LEO) we all come together for a singular purpose – to keep amateur radio in space.

So, what’s next? With over 52 years of success, what are we going to do now?

We have an ambitious, forward thinking plan (https://www.amsat.org/strategicplan/) that’s ready to be put into action. Central to this plan are the needs to modernize how we manage projects and explore ways to collaborate with our international partners, given current ITAR/EAR restrictions.

In addition, as an all-volunteer, member organization, we need help. While we have a solid core of volunteers now, expanding our programs will require additional human resources and added expertise. I will be addressing this in the next issue of The AMSAT Journal, but, if you cannot wait, please feel free to contact me directly. We would love to have you join our team.

Our greatest threat right now is the ever-tightening regulatory environment. It is one thing to hope to return to higher orbits and even beyond, but all of this will be for naught, if we can’t get a satellite licensed in an orbit above LEO. Proposed orbital debris mitigation regulations will require orbits above 600 kilometers to have a flight-proven, low-risk transfer orbit, long-term reentry capability, 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 will not be enough. Every mission will be closely evaluated to ensure it serves the greater benefit of all, which, at this time, strongly favors commercial, scientific and educational interests. Thankfully, our Engineers had the foresight to develop the GOLF program for this very purpose.

While we await the FCC’s final ruling, we cannot sit idly by and be content with mediocrity. We must continue to push Onward and Upward. Our efforts should be focused on new communication systems that more efficiently allow us to communicate in space and spacecraft which will take us towards and beyond the next space horizon. At the same time, it is imperative that we establish and maintain a path of sustainability that not only introduces space communications using amateur radio to the public, but, also, nurtures them to be the next generation of satellite builders and operators.

On a side note, I had the pleasure of attending and speaking at the 2021 AMSAT-UK Space Colloquium on October 24th. It was an incredible event and AMSAT-UK did a phenomenal job of hosting the virtual event. In addition to the great work being done by the Surrey Space Center team on their STAR-XL project, the operators chasing QO-100, and Peter 2M0SQL’s roving efforts in Northern Scotland, we were treated to presentations on IARU Amateur Satellite co-ordination, by Hans Blondeel Timmerman PB2T, and an AMSAT-DL update, by Peter Guelzow, DB2OS. If you missed the AMSAT-UK Colloquium, I encourage you to view it on AMSAT-UKs YouTube Channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/AMSATUK/videos.

Let me close with personally thanking all of our members, who generously donated to the AMSAT President’s Club this year, and our Vice-President of Development, Frank Karnauskas N1UW, who single-handedly resurrected this program and managed to raise over $33,000. I look forward to what Frank can do for next year.