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 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 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

Google Summer of Code 2020 Application Results

Today is the day for Google Summer of Code “Accepted Organizations”, and I got the extremely kindly written rejection notice for Open Research Institute’s application a few minutes ago. There are a *lot* more organizations applying than spots, this was our first year, and we will 100% try again.

Also, there are also designated “umbrella” groups that we can potentially move underneath and still participate. I’m going to reach out and see if we can’t get that rolling! If you know of one that would be a good match, let me know.

This is the first year applying, and it resulted in the creation of a much more publicly accessible list of project content than we had with the task board on GitHub.

So, we are going to fully use this list and tackle all the jobs! The content will go straight over the The Ham Calling, a new site designed specifically for connecting high-tech ham work with high-tech hams!

Here’s the current lineup:

Google Summer of Code 2020

I’m writing up an article for the Journal as well.

What other projects do you think should be added? This list best serves as a “base” of potential work to advance the radio arts in the community.

Thank you very much to those that volunteered to be mentors! Several of you volunteered to be mentors for the first time, ever. That is a big step and greatly appreciated.

In several cases, hams contacted me with anxiety over being “technical enough” to mentor students. Yes, some of these projects are complex, but mentorship is much much more than being able to answer a student’s technical questions. Being supported while taking risks, learning about amateur satellite operation, learning about the amateur “code”, and how to fail and start over or roll back to what most recently worked – these are foundational things.

Encouragement and steady support are, in the long run, of greater value than being able to substitute in for a Wikipedia article on FEC.

Next year, assuming things continue to improve, TAPR, AMSAT, and ARRL will all apply to be mentoring organizations along with ORI and GNU Radio and others. Amateur radio is uniquely qualified to serve a meaningful and significant role in open source technical advancement, and I cannot wait to see the future results.

-Michelle W5NYV

Open Research Institute Sponsors GNU Radio Conference

Open Research Institute is proud to be a logistics sponsor for GNU Radio Conference 2020. It is an honor to serve the GNU Radio community and provide critical support for this premier event.

GNU Radio is an open source digital signal processing framework for software-defined radio. Used across the government, academia, industry, and by hobbyists and researchers worldwide, GNU Radio Conference 2020 will focus on speed, performance, and latency.

Tucson Amateur Packet Radio will hold their Digital Communications Conference the weekend immediately before GNU Radio Conference at the same venue. This is a highlight of the year for amateur radio digital communications theory and practice.

Come enjoy one or both conferences with minimal difficulty and no additional travel!

Open Research Institute is a non-profit 501(c)(3) research and development organization which provides all of its work to the general public under the principles of Open Source and Open Access to Research.

TAPR is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization of amateur radio (“ham”) operators who are interested in advancing the state of the radio art. The initials stand for “Tucson Amateur Packet Radio” but today the organization is much broader than that: we long ago became an international organization, and while we still support packet radio our areas of interest have expanded to include software defined radio, advanced digital modulation methods, and precise time and frequency measurement.

TAPR’s main activities are education and knowledge sharing through conferences, publications, and Internet resources; and research, development, and sales of unique products that assist amateurs and other experimenters. TAPR strongly endorses technology sharing, and in 2007 released one of the first licenses designed for open hardware projects, the TAPR Open Hardware License. With rare exceptions, all hardware and software developed with TAPR support is licensed under open source or open hardware terms.

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
Renaissance Charlotte Suites Hotel
11-13 September TAPR DCC
14-18 GNU Radio Conference

Charlotte, South Carolina is the epicenter for technology and finance in the southeastern US – and as such, is blessed with many attractions and a breathtaking skyline.

Find out more to do in Charlotte at

P4XT Digital Multiplexing Transponder Project Program Proposal

Greetings all,

This is our P4XT Digital Multiplexing Transponder Project Program Proposal. It’s the result of multiple revisions and a lot of work.

We recognize Wally Ritchie WU1Y for taking on the majority of the writing duties. He has crafted quality work from a wide variety of input, commentary, argument, and critique. He has clarified our intentions and ambitions into a quality proposal. 

It is ready for publication and distribution. 

Current version can be found at: 


Invitation – Digital Multiplexing Transponder Working Meeting at HamCation 2020

Open Research Institute is planning a working project kickoff session for the P4XT Digital Multiplexing Transponder Project, and you are invited!

This will be a half-day session to be held just after the closing of HamCation in Orlando on Sunday afternoon, February 9, 2020.

The goal of the P4XT project is to produce open source Digital Multiplexing Transponders (DMTs) for the Amateur Radio Service Microwave Bands, including fully tested and verified hardware, hardware descriptive language, and firmware. These DMTs will be suitable for deployment in Geostationary Orbit.

This will be a working session by the participants. The first half of the session will be technical. The second half will focus on project planning and budget issues.

During the HamCation, there will be a public one-hour high-level presentation of the project. There will also be another one hour presentation by ORI on GEO amateur satellites and a presentation about open source projects across amateur radio.

The written project proposal and the agenda for the meeting will be published in advance of the session.

The session will be held near the HamCation venue. The session will be from 3PM – 7PM on Sunday, February 9, 2020.

3PM – 3:30 PM will be a meet and greet. The formal agenda will be 3:30PM – 7PM.

As this is a working session, attendance is limited. It is not intended to be an open public event but rather a working session of key potential contributors and advisors. Therefore, an RSVP is required.

RSVP to [email protected] or 858 229 3399 (leave a message, texts are welcome)

We will hold this session in accordance with Open Research Institute Developer and Participant Policies. These can be found at

See you there!

-Michelle Thompson 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: and

We believe these policies are sufficient. 


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
[email protected] 229 3399