Monday, October 28, 2019

Report to Members 4 - AMSAT-NA Board of Directors 2019

Greetings all!

This report covers the past two weeks. I didn't want to write one on the Friday during the middle of AMSAT Symposium. In retrospect, that was a good decision. It makes this report much easier to write.

Three weeks into the new term, Patrick Stoddard and I were told by Joe Spier (President of AMSAT-NA) that if we signed a letter acknowledging the many (much more than two!) NDAs that AMSAT has signed with various companies and organizations, that we'd get access to corporate communications and documents.

We can't read the board of director email list archive and we cannot see any repositories. We did get some financial documents, which were sobering. No orientation to the board of directors or assistance with the transition was provided.

On the first day of the two-day AMSAT board meeting, held immediately before 2019 Symposium, the acknowledgement letter was inadvertently forgotten. No problem. The next day it was provided. Patrick and I signed it.

We noticed that the entire rest of the board and all the senior officers signed it as well.

Why were they not signed on to these NDAs before?

The rest of Symposium happened. There were many productive meetings and great presentations. I got to see the ARISS power supply presented in the demo room. It was wonderful to see the final stage of a very long engineering process that has taken a lot of hard work from volunteers from my home town. I caught up with a lot of other people over the weekend and had a great time.

However, there was no change in access to documents. A week after we signed the NDA acknowledgement letter, Patrick inquired as to when we'd be able to see the things that we should be able to see.

The response? A phone conference with Joe Spier and a lawyer from Hurwit & Associates on 24 October 2019. Patrick was able to make this meeting, but I was not. The phone conference had been proposed the day before. I couldn't attend because of school drop offs and medical appointments. Patrick took the call.

The claim? Neither Patrick and I can see the email archives because AMSAT is afraid we would launch multiple lawsuits over the content. The content was described by Joe Spier as being about Patrick and myself.

The result? Patrick and I will meet with at least one DC law firm that specializes in non-profit corporate governance. The meetings will start on 4 November 2019. We will present the written and oral communication we've received and the timeline and what we learned this week and ask for an opinion on what to do next.

Why are we getting a lawyer? When people you expect to work with show up with lawyers and say you cannot have access to things you expect to have access to, that means you probably need a lawyer too. Patrick and I are very disappointed that the President of AMSAT paid a lawyer to deflect questions about access to ordinary corporate communications after we complied with the NDA acknowledgement letter demand.

I think this development is very bad news. I'm sorry to have to share it with you. I believe members deserve to know about it.

Before the board meeting, Tom Clark (Director) asked for an agenda item to talk about Open Research Institute volunteers being more involved with GOLF, AREx, and other activities. He wanted the board to discuss the Rent-a-GEO and GEOx4 proposals.

Open Research Institute is a 501c3 specifically formed to be a member society of AMSAT. All of Open Research Institute's work is open source. This would allow AMSAT to participate in the thriving open source scene while disrupting their current closed methodology as little as possible. It's a step in the right direction.

Here is the quote from Tom Clark's email to Joe Spier, who was going to chair the board meeting.

"One item I'd like to add to the agenda, as circulated by Joe, is addressed to Michelle. It is quite obvious the O.R.I. and the people on the [Ground-station] email list should be a significant part of AMSAT's GOLF-TEE, GEO and AREx (Amateur Radio Exploration) future activities. I'd like to have some discussion on how the groups can work together. This should include the hot-button topic of the GEO Echostar 9 commercial activity fits into the scheme of amateur radio especially since amateur frequencies are not a part of the picture."

This item was excluded by Joe Spier from the agenda. None of these subjects were allowed on the agenda. I thanked Tom for attempting to include it and told him about some of our recent engineering successes after the board meeting concluded.


Refusing to work with active volunteers, and refusing to work with entire organizations with diverse and successful teams, does not serve AMSAT's mission.

Bringing up litigation as the fear that justifies the refusal to cooperate or collaborate is very bad news. Neither Patrick or I know the real reasons for this. We speculate that any criticism of AMSAT in any way is perceived as some sort of existential threat.

Looking at the finances, the amount of money that AMSAT is spending on lawyers has sharply increased over the past two years. AMSAT is running a deficit. Unnecessary legal expenses add to that deficit.

There are two possibilities.

The previous board of directors did indeed write things that were wildly inappropriate. They schemed up stuff that actually does put the corporation at risk if the targets of the writing found out. People decided it was better to defy the DC corporate code than to let the targets see whatever it is they are so afraid of us seeing. I can't imagine what's in engineering repositories or the board of directors mailing list archive that would justify the risk and expense. Maybe people felt they could write these things because they never expected people outside their circle to ever win a seat.

Or, this is simply a delaying tactic. There really isn't any sensitive content on the mailing list, at all. It's just a ruse. The point is to delay involvement from new people because they like running the organization as they see fit and don't want to change.


Here's the good news.

Engineering meetings with people enthusiastic about open source solutions and proposals went extremely well. There is Rent-a-GEO and Phase 4 Space, but also work going on right now to move LDPC decoders into FPGA, put on an FPGA workshop that focuses on amateur satellite communications, create hardware and software for useful open source beacons, and a project to create open source affordable and reliable tracking rotators. The existing general purpose processor LDPC decoder work has been a very big success in the satellite community. A product using this open source work appeared in ARISS slides and presentations at Symposium.

Mikio Mouri of JAMSAT asked for help with a lunar receiving station that complies with the Lunar Orbiting Platform Gateway, or LOP-G. I agreed to help and started work immediately. Several people from Libre Space and Open Research Institute have volunteered to help. The team is looking to create a robust and easily-manufactured open source station design that uses a wide swath of open source satellite work. We aim to present the work in 2020 at the Tokyo Ham Fair. LOP-G relies heavily on LDPC. We have solutions here and people willing to do the mechanical design necessary for a tracking station.

On the Information Technology front, I have volunteers standing by with proven solutions for the AMSAT member database conversion from DBASE to the format used by Wild Apricot. This software is the vendor of choice for the member database conversion and was discussed at the 2019 AMSAT board meeting.

We look forward to being able to make this an easy transition from DBASE to Wild Apricot. After the volunteer offer was accepted at the board meeting, everyone touched base on 21 October 2019.

Please let me know your questions and comments! Thank you for your vote and support.

-Michelle W5NYV

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