I am currently studying for my Technician Exam and I am amazed at the sheer number of amateur radio satellites in orbit. Knowing how expensive it is to launch something into space, and assuming there is very little return on investment concerning these satellites (since they are free to use), who funded them? Don't get me wrong, I'm super happy they are there, I'm just perplexed as to how (in terms of money) they got there.
Many of the amateur radio satellites are built, owned, and operated by various AMSAT organizations around the world. They typically get their funds from donations and organization membership fees. They're able to keep their costs low by using commodity hardware when possible, utilizing volunteer labor, and sharing launch vehicles with other payloads (essentially carpooling to orbit).
From AMSAT-NA's history:
AMSAT’s major source of operating revenue is obtained by offering yearly or lifetime memberships in the various international AMSAT organizations. Membership is open to Radio Amateurs and to others interested in the amateur exploration of space. Modest donations are also sought for tracking software and other satellite related publications at Amateur Radio gatherings. In addition, specific spacecraft development funds are established from time to time to receive both individual and corporate donations to help fund major AMSAT spacecraft projects.
However, in corporate terms, these funds usually yield operating capital that’s well below project budgets for comparable commercial satellite activities. For example, AMSAT-North America’s entire operating budget for 2014, including all the development funding generated from member donations toward AMSAT’s latest satellite project (the FOX Project) amounts to just a little more than $250,000.