AMSAT/ARRL Social Media Failure Antares Launch

Please note: in what follows, you are reading a partially fleshed out manuscript based upon experiences from nearly a year ago in regards to how the ARRL and AMSAT deal with “cub reporters,” “bloggers,” and other non-traditional media sources- I had been selected as a #NASASocial guest for the Antares Orb-3 launch at Wallops Flight Facility and was trying both to find something to link the launch to my amateur radio hobby and space nerds such as myself in general. Next month’s post will be an in depth review of that overall experience- without any focus on the groups that inspired me to sign up in the first place.

It’s entirely possible that the ARRL and AMSAT have changed their behavior in the meantime (sadly, this story will probably be sort of like Joe Taylor, sycophants et al., and his beloved WSJT- if it wasn’t invented in his mind, it can’t be worth much unless he can ride your superior coding coattails- see the recent K9AN stuff in the wsjtdevel group) but it is incredibly unlikely any change has happened at all. Sean Kutzko, KX9X, had been recently promoted (Spring/Summer 2014 or so) to deal with media requests and has continued to do a very poor professional job in handling them- yet he somehow seems quite able to announce his own DXpeditions on relevant community mailing lists. AMSAT is nearly dead, sad to say, and while it doesn’t give me any joy to throw sand upon that already dug grave, I think it is prudent to mention how cliquish, silly and irrelevant they’ve become. Wonder when AMSAT will be absorbed by ARRL?

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I happen to think that the ARRL and AMSAT get most things right, if better late than never. But in this case, they both failed me.

A week before I was to leave for the launch, I emailed Kay Craige, ARRL President, requesting help about whom I should speak to in regards to any questions the ARRL might like asked and how to include any facet of amateur radio-just to keep the subject alive in present day science. And like the very class act she is, she responded with the greatest alacrity. She directed me to Sean Kutzko (ARRL) and Barry Baines (AMSAT) as sources for information on any relevant amateur radio interest that might be encompassed by the launch. Unfortunately, neither Sean nor Barry responded to my pre-flight checklist on my way out to the launch, and Sean did not respond to any emails during or after the launch. Looking back, there is the ARRL response and the AMSAT one that I would like to describe- I’ll take them in that order.

After the Antares launch failure, it came as a shock to me that the ARRL released a statement regarding the amateur radio satellite payload that had been on the manifest to be launched- especially considering I had previously asked if one was aboard, who could I speak to about it, I was going there as a #NASASocial guest and would do anything to help report, ask questions, make friends, and so forth about just such an endeavor. I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that the ARRL ignored me- and Sean Kutzko, KX9X, in particular. I had emailed him both at his professional and personal email address to seek help on anything QST might like to cover, anyone he might know who’d be there, anyone who might have a story to tell, anyone who might have a ham radio connection at Wallops, any pictures they might like, and so on. And then, when it proved beneficial to the ARRL’s relevance, the ARRL released what knowledge they did have regarding the launch in order to appear in the know. It seems to be the case that the ARRL knew there were payloads aboard; but Sean couldn’t simply lift a finger to help. Predatory journalism or business as usual? You be the judge.

AMSAT was a bit better- after I complained on Twitter the night before the scrubbed first launch attempt, Barry finally did email me back in a rather condescending way and gave the usual excuse(s) that he had simply missed the email- it was only because one of the more connected leadership actually saw and acted on the negative tweet. How a president of an organization of 3K people (or put another way- so few people), or however many they have, can simply miss an email is incredibly strange to me. In the fair spirit of not reposting his very weak answer (but you know, if his wife, his boss or his friends had emailed him, he would have had some sort of response, it seems reasonable to believe) for all to see, just please take it on faith that his response was, at best, only a placating response at his failure to have any information with which I could work with in my travels. That much was beneficial, I think- it isn’t clear to me that either of these organizations knows what is going on day to day, but rather, that they know what is going on when some sort of catastrophe happens. Barry did say that he didn’t know of any amateur radio sats going up on this payload- so it looks like the ARRL scooped him here. How much longer will it be until AMSAT folds into the ARRL? The Fox program is probably their last, due to lack of membership dues and funding. I mean, if they don’t know what’s going up on the rockets that did contain amateur gear, is it reasonable to expect they will for any other but their own? If not, why not? The answer is money, and they seem to be running out of it because the membership keeps dropping. I can only wonder why- it couldn’t be a lack of response from leadership, perhaps?

To drive the point home: search ARRL/AMSAT news archives for any mention of the Antares launch before it occurred- see how forward thinking they were. You’ll find the same answer I already knew- neither gave it any thought or mention until such as disaster could directly benefit them. Is that who you want to give your money to, the people who only ask for your money in a manufactured crisis?

So, sorry fellows, time for you to take your lumps for mediocre performance. Your less than helpful efforts should be noted both so you can improve and as a warning to others about your performance when it comes time for voting- no pay raises for Sean!  Barry- investigate how to merge with ARRL and get Kay Craige onboard. She’s the best leader the ARRL has had in a generation- let AMSAT die and bring them on over.

2 thoughts on “AMSAT/ARRL Social Media Failure Antares Launch”

  1. I don’t believe there is any relationship between #NASASocial, AMSAT, and the ARRL. While you may have had good intentions reaching out to those organizations to offer your services, I don’t fault them for not giving you any kind of official assignment. As you pointed out, these organizations run on limited budgets. I don’t expect them to jump when someone sends them an email.

    As for the payloads on the Antares Orb-3 launch having amateur radio transponders, I believe there were none. I make the distinction between transponders and amateur radio transmitters (telemetry beacons) for one key reason: the majority of AMSAT and ARRL folks scouring the Internet for launch information are looking primarily at transponder capabilities of new satellites.

    Almost any qualified applicant can receive coordination for an amateur radio frequency to use on their small satellite. This has been frequently abused and today most coordinating organizations are fully aware of it. Some are taking action to prevent this abuse from our spectrum.

    I believe you are making some assumptions that simply because an amateur radio transmitter (beacon) is launched, AMSAT or ARRL should be aware of it. They not only have no obligation to be aware of them but inversely no one has obligation to report to those two entities that a new satellite is being launched carrying amateur radio gear.


    1. Hi Clayton,

      Thanks for writing in. You’re mistaken about nearly everything you write, probably because you are a big fan of AMSAT- of whom I was critical- and you’ve let that cloud your comprehension of what it was I happened to point out. Let me try another approach and see if it is more successful for your and others understanding.

      1) I don’t know why you think I was looking to actually do work for AMSAT or ARRL- I wasn’t requesting anything other than information that might help in crafting a story for my own audience. If anything, I was a free reporter for NASASocial, but you aren’t going to see me put that on a resume as real experience- but I am proud of the work I did then, this piece and the forthcoming one that gotten eaten in WordPress. I was trying to research what anyone may have known about this particular launch before I went so that I could, if possible while I was there, ask questions relevant to these areas of interest and report on them to my audience. The Public Affairs officer of the ARRL couldn’t even be bothered to send an email back saying, “Sorry, have no idea about this launch- have fun!”. And when the president of the same organization, who isn’t paid, can answer my emails, then I really think it is a piss poor performance when the paid staff cannot. That you conflate some sense of self-importance on my part as demanding something that is beyond reach is simply absurd. Sean’s job is to field requests like mine, or direct me to someone who can. It’s what dues are for, after all.

      2) How you define satellites isn’t really germane to this particular discussion; but I think it is a very novel, if completely incorrect, definition of satellite. Nevertheless, the ARRL just again announced what satellites were aboard a recently failed launch in the weekly ARRL Letter. So, it is the case that they do know about these sorts of things or go find out about them. Why I couldn’t be given the same courtesy is a complete mystery to me. It isn’t like these are secrets- you just have to know the right person to ask. In my experience, neither Barry nor Sean were helpful in any meaningful way.

      3) If your argument is that AMSAT doesn’t have an obligation to be aware of new satellites, then the leadership is doing a poor job of staying on top of current events. The satellite community as a whole is incredibly small. It defies reason to believe that they wouldn’t at least be broadly aware of most of what is happening- or at least who to ask. And to think that they have any enforcement of any sort of spectrum requirements (other than for their own birds) is so far in left field that I don’t think you are in the ball park anymore. Really- what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

      So, to sum- you have an incredibly facile view on what I wrote, probably because I reported my negative experiences about trying to get some service out of organizations- of which at the time I was a member- (well, AMSAT’s has since run out) that you happen to be a fan of. I wasn’t asking for a press kit, badge, vest or a flashing light or an HT or personal tour. I just wanted to know a little background about the launch in terms of satellites or who I could speak with about it before I went. I don’t think that’s an incredibly difficult request to meet- do you? Even an email saying, “sorry, don’t know nuttin’,” would have been fine. Instead, I got silence and condescension. And who in the world pays for that?


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