Briefs

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Snecma Chief Urges Europe To Fund Vinci Upper Stage

Snecma Chief Executive Jean-Paul Bechat urged European governments Jan. 16 to renew their backing for development of a restartable upper-stage motor for Europe’s heavy-lift Ariane 5 rocket. Bechat said the technology also could be used for the Vega small-satellite launcher now in development.

Snecma, a rocket motor manufacturer, has been developing the Vinci engine for several years in cooperation with its partners Volvo of Sweden and the launcher division of Astrium in Germany. The program’s full development, however, was sidelined as

Europe sought to stabilize the initial Ariane 5 design. The current Ariane 5 rocket uses a modified version of the upper-stage engine also used on the Ariane 4 rocket, which has been retired.

Development of Vinci would increase the Ariane 5’s payload capacity by some 1,500 kilograms. Today’s Ariane 5 ECA rocket can place two telecommunications satellites weighing a combined 9,500 kilograms into geostationary transfer orbit.

Vinci testing continues at Snecma’s Vernon, France site and at Germany’s Lampoldshausen facility with financing from the European Space Agency and the French space agency, CNES.

But full-scale development has not been authorized, and Snecma officials are concerned that a scheduled 2008 meeting of ESA governments to decide a multiyear spending package might overlook Vinci.

Bechat said that in addition to providing a restartable engine for Ariane 5, Vinci might be adapted as the second stage of the Italian-led Vega rocket, now in development and scheduled for a first launch in 2008.

Bechat also reiterated his proposal that Europe’s two principal specialists in liquid-fueled rocket propulsion, Snecma and Astrium of Germany, merge into a single company. Astrium, owned by Europe’s EADS aerospace giant, has liquid propulsion facilities in Lampoldshausen and Ottobrunn, Germany.

“We continue to believe that there is not room enough in Europe for two liquid propulsion companies,” Bechat said. “And if we don’t get sufficient support [for Vinci and related research] from European governments, there may not even be room enough for one.”

 

Falcon-1 Launch Attempt Pushed to Mid February

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) announced Jan. 19 that it would not attempt its second launch of its Falcon 1 rocket before mid February.

The announcement came the same day the El Segundo, Calif.-based company was preparing to conduct a static fire test of the rocket in preparation for a what had been a scheduled Jan. 22 launch from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk, in an update posted on the company’s Web site, said the decision to postpone was due to concerns about the thrust-vector-control pitch actuator on the Falcon 1’s second stage. The anomaly was discovered during a final checkout of the Falcon 1 in preparation for the four-second static firing of the vehicle’s main engine.

Since the suspect component does not come into play during the static firing, SpaceX intends to go ahead and conduct the test between Jan. 20 and Jan. 23. After that, he said, the rocket will be taken back to its hangar to permit a thorough investigation of the thrust vector control issue.

SpaceX, which had reserved a two-day window for the launch attempt, loses use of the range for a while starting Jan. 24 when the U.S. military is expected to begin preparations for an upcoming Minuteman missile test.

Musk said the company is now planning for a mid-February launch attempt, but emphasized that it is far from certain that the Falcon will actually lift off then.

“As I’ve mentioned previously, don’t hold your breath for this launch,” Musk said. “Given the large number of robustness improvements and the fact that our vehicle/pad health verification system has increased from about 30 checks to almost 1,000, shifts in the launch date are to be expected. Overall, the SpaceX team is quite happy with the smooth progress so far.”

The upcoming launch is a demonstration flight paid for by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which also paid for the Falcon 1’s unsuccessful debut last March.

 

First Image From Corot Exceeds Expectations

France’s Corot planet-hunting satellite on Jan. 18 produced its first image, of the constellation of Monoceros, the Unicorn, located near Orion. The picture “is even better than I dreamed of. The quality is as good as simulated images,” Michel Auvergne, science payload manager for Corot, said in a Jan. 18 statement.

The satellite, built for the French space agency, CNES, and launched Dec. 27, is on a 30-month mission to map stars and search for Earth-like planets orbiting them. Instrument calibration is expected to be completed in February.

Corot’s main observing telescope is scheduled to remain locked on the Monoceros constellation and the surrounding region until April.

The telescope was built by Alcatel Alenia Space, using camera-stabilization technologies developed as part of France’s Helios optical satellite reconnaissance program.

 

Intelsat Orders Satellite From Space Systems/Loral

Space Systems/Loral will build the Intelsat 14 telecommunications satellite to be ready for launch in 2009 under a contract the Palo Alto, Calif., satellite manufacturer announced Jan. 19.

Intelsat 14 will be located at 45 degrees west longitude and will replace the PAS-1R satellite there now. PAS-1R is one of the six first-generation Boeing 702-model satellites that are equipped with defective solar arrays and expected to fall short of their 15-year in-orbit design lives. PAS-1R was launched in 2000.

Intelsat 14 will be a Loral 1300 model spacecraft with 40 C-band and 22 Ku-band transponders feeding four beams to provide coverage of North and South America as well as portions of Europe and Africa.

70,000 iPSTAR Terminals Distributed in East Asia Shin Satellite Plc of Thailand on Jan. 19 reported that it had distributed 70,000 iPSTAR broadband satellite user terminals in East Asia and has set a target of 150,000 terminals to be in use by the end of 2007.

Also known as Thaicom 4, the iPSTAR satellite was launched in August 2005 as the first commercial satellite devoted entirely to broadband Internet communications. The satellite has a capacity of 45 gigabits per second of throughput, and Shin estimates that up to 10 million subscribers could be accommodated.

Shin officials have said iPSTAR is competing in markets where DSL broadband is sold at very low prices to consumers, a fact that has slowed iPSTAR rollout in some nations.

Telecom Italia to Install WorldSpace ATC Network Telecom Italia will design and install terrestrial signal amplifiers in Italy for WorldSpace’s satellite-radio network, permitting signal reception in urban areas and other regions out of line-of-sight view of the WorldSpace satellite, Silver Spring, Md.-based WorldSpace Inc. announced Jan. 16.

Italian regulators in 2006 granted WorldSpace access to 12.5 megahertz of L-band spectrum for its service in Italy, marking the first European regulatory approval for the hybrid terrestrial-satellite service. WorldSpace’s AfriStar satellite currently covers much of Europe.

WorldSpace Italia S.p.A. said it will deploy the terrestrial amplifiers in Italy’s major urban areas. The company did not specify the estimated cost of the network, or Ancillary Terrestrial Component (ATC).

 

Inmarsat to Link Up With Public Ground Networks

Inmarsat Ltd. of London awarded a $36.5 million, two-year contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., to build three gateway stations to connect Inmarsat’s mobile satellite network to public terrestrial networks.

The integrated network system would allow Inmarsat to tap into the hand-held mobile satellite services market. Inmarsat hopes to begin providing this service by the fourth quarter of 2008, according to a Jan. 15 press release from Lockheed Martin.

First SAR-Lupe Craft Declared Operational Germany’s first military reconnaissance satellite, the SAR-Lupe radar spacecraft launched Dec. 19, has successfully tested the full range of its imaging modes and is now fully functional, prime contractor OHB-System and the German defense-procurement office said Jan. 19.

The second of five planned SAR-Lupe satellites is scheduled for launch in July, with the complete system expected to be in orbit in late 2008.

Operating in low Earth orbit at 500 kilometers in altitude, SAR-Lupe is controlled from the German Federal Armed Forces’ Gelsdorf ground station. The satellites have several imaging modes, depending on whether programmers are seeking to hone in on a small area or to scan larger swaths of territory at lower resolutions.

In high-resolution mode, the spacecraft are able to detect objects as small as 50 centimeters in diameter. The satellite can take images of all points on Earth between 80 degrees north and 80 degrees south latitude.

Bremen, Germany-based OHB-System AG’s SAR-Lupe contract includes a 10-year performance guarantee that will be set in motion when the second satellite is operational. The guarantees include a minimum number of images per day and a maximum allowed time period between when an order is sent to the spacecraft and the corresponding image delivered.

OHB-System has taken out an insurance policy for the SAR-Lupe system, to be launched on five Russian Cosmos 3M rockets from northern Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome.

The SAR-Lupe constellation is equipped with cross-links links permitting the satellites to relay commands among themselves to speed response time.

While the cross-links links and the overall system response time cannot be measured with a single satellite, the images produced so far by the first SAR-Lupe are as good as expected, according to Wolfgang Perkert, SAR-Lupe project manager for the German Federal Office of Defense Technology.

“The satellite is working very well and we are more than satisfied with the images which we have received,” Perkert said in a Jan. 19 statement.

OHB-System Chief Executive Manfred Fuchs said: “Everything from the launch to the generation of the radar images has gone off without a hitch.”

 

 MDA NABS Contract for Shuttle Inspection Boom

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) will build a third inspection boom for NASA’s space shuttle and perform other engineering duties related to the orbiter fleet’s robotic manipulator arms under a contract modification worth about 28 million Canadian dollars ($24 million), the company announced Jan. 15.

The booms are attached to the shuttle’s robotic arm and serve as a maneuverable platform for cameras performing in-orbit inspections of the spacecraft. Such inspections were mandated after the 2003 Columbia disaster, whose root cause was damage to the shuttle’s exterior heat shield that went undetected.

MDA of Richmond, British Columbia, is prime contractor on the shuttle robotic arm, known as Canadarm. Tasks performed under this general contract with the U.S. space agency must be authorized individually. The boom work accounts for about half the value of the contract modification, the press release said.

The boom extends the reach of the Canadarm by some 15 meters, to about 30 meters, according to Mike Hiltz, MDA’s technical program manager for the Shuttle Robotic Arm program. Tests carried out in July demonstrated that the boom, in addition to carrying inspection cameras, can hold two spacewalking astronauts simultaneously, he said in an interview Jan. 15.

The first two MDA-built Canadarm extension booms are in service, with each having flown two missions. NASA elected to order a third boom after canceling plans for a similar but smaller piece of robotic hardware known as the MiniBoom in October.

Hiltz said the MiniBoom was proposed as a solution for certain space station assembly missions where there was not enough room in the orbiter’s cargo bay to accommodate the other boom. Engineers have resolved that issue with a plan to store one of the larger booms aboard the space station and install it on the end of the Canadarm after the shuttle arrives, he said.

DARPA Awards Work on Anti-Jamming Technology

A team led by BAE Systems of Nashua, N.H., will continue development work on anti-jamming technology for satellite terminals under a contract extension worth $10.3 million with the U.S. Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA), the company said in a Jan. 16 press release.

The Novel Satellite Communications (NSC) program is designed to enable mobile troops equipped with the hand-held Joint Tactical Radio System to uplink to satellites at high data rates even when multiple jamming sources are located nearby, according to information posted on DARPA’s Web site. The program is focused on signal-processing and coding techniques to thwart jamming attempts, DARPA said.

Under the latest contract installment, which includes options potentially worth $4.3 million, BAE and its team will further refine algorithms, design a test system and develop an initial technology transition plan, the company said. BAE has 10 companies working as subcontractors on the phase 3 effort, which is expected to be completed in early 2008.

Phase 4 of the program will involve a full-scale system demonstration involving satellites, BAE Systems said. In a written response to questions, DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker said that a demonstration is scheduled for late 2008 or 2009.

The other design contractors on Phase 2 of the NSC program were SAIC and Argon ST, Walker said. Only BAE Systems received a Phase 3 award, which was made Dec. 7, she said.
JWST Contractors Report Developmental Milestones

Software developed by Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. and NASA that will help control the 6.6-meter primary mirror on the agency’s planned James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has achieved a key milestone, the Boulder, Colo.-based company announced Jan. 8.

Engineers from Ball and NASA used a 1-meter JWST test bed to demonstrate the technical maturity of so-called Wavefront Sensing and Control software critical to bringing the infrared telescope’s mirrors into proper alignment in orbit. In demonstrating that it can work in a realistic operational environment, the advanced image processing and control software has met the criteria for a Technology Readiness Level-6, or TRL-6, rating, Ball said.

Flight-qualified technologies are considered TRL-8 and flight-proven technologies are declared TRL-9.

Ball is the principal subcontractor on JWST, which is being built by Northrop Grumman Space Technology under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. In 2006, JWST’s 18-segment primary mirror assembly passed its TRL-6 review.

In a related development, Northrop Grumman announced Jan. 18 that the JWST’s Backplane Stability Test Article, a full-scale prototype of a structure that will hold and support the telescope’s sensitive lightweight mirrors, also has achieved a TLR-6 rating following several months of vacuum chamber testing that wrapped up in September at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. The tests were designed to see how well the hardware performs under extremely cold temperatures.

Firms to Continue Work on Air-Launched Interceptor

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) awarded a $3 million contract to Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control of Dallas to continue study work on an air-launched missile interceptor, according to a company news release dated Jan. 16.

The Air-Launched Hit-to-Kill concept employs a Lockheed Martin-built Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptor to knock down cruise missiles as well as short- and medium-range ballistic missiles launched from ships near the U.S.coastline. It would be launched from a fighter jet such as an F-15.

Under the contract, Lockheed Martin will build on earlier study work on the concept in preparation for a possible intercept test against a ballistic missile target, Mike Trotsky, vice-president of air and missile defense at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said in the press release.

Sara Hammond, a spokeswoman for Raytheon Missile Systems of Tucson, Ariz., said that the company expects to receive a similar contract from MDA in mid-February to continue working on its concept for an aircraft-launched interceptor system.

Genesis 2 launch Is Delayed by 60 Days

The launch of the privately backed Genesis 2 experimental space habitation module has been delayed until early April – a slip of at least 60 days.

In a statement issued Jan. 16, Genesis 2 owner Bigelow Aerospace of North Las Vegas said the launch was delayed by ISC Kosmotras of Russia, which is under contract to launch the module aboard a Dnepr rocket. The Russian firm wanted to double check the fight readiness of the vehicle, which experienced a failure in July.

“Genesis 2 stands ready for its mission and we are putting this additional time to good use by testing and retesting its systems,” Bigelow’s president, motel magnate Robert Bigelow said in a prepared statement. “If Kosmotras can deliver on its current schedule, we expect to ship Genesis 2 to Russia… at some point in early March for a launch on or about April 1.”

Bigelow Aerospace hopes to build orbital hotels for space tourists using inflatable module technology originally developed by NASA. The company’s first prototype habitation module, Genesis 1, was launched in 2006 and continues to operate in orbit.

 

Telespazio, Avezzano Plan Galileo Control Facility

Telespazio and the Avezzano industrial development consortium will build a control center for Europe’s future Galileo satellite navigation constellation at Telespazio’s Fucino, Italy, site under a contract financed by regional Italian government, Telespazio announced.

Under the contract, valued at 10 million euros ($13 million), Avezzano will lead development of a 4,000-square-meter add-on to Telespazio’s existing facility at the Fucino Space Center. The work is scheduled to be completed in 2008.

Infoterra Ltd. To Lead GMES Coordination Effort Infoterra Ltd. of Britain is leading a team of more than 30 companies to help coordinate the development of Europe’s Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) program, a multiyear, multi-discipline effort to integrate environmental data.

Infoterra Ltd. will lead the BOSS4GMES – Building Operational Sustainable Services for GMES – consortium under a contract with the European Commission. The project will attempt facilitate the exchange of environmental information among industry and government users.

BOSS4GAMES is one of seven Integrated Projects for GMES that were first funded by the European Commission’s 6th Framework Program for Research, with commission funding totaling about 13.3 million euros ($17.2 million). The industrial partners co-fund the work.

Senate Space Advocate Won’t Seek Re-Election

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), one of Capitol Hill’s most vocal advocates for military space, announced Jan. 15 that he will not seek re-election in 2008.

In a news release posted on his Senate Web site, Allard said he plans to honor a pledge he made when first elected to the Senate in 1996 to serve just two terms.

“In an age when promises are cast away as quickly as yesterday’s newspaper, I believe a promise made is a promise kept,” Allard said. “The people of Colorado placed their trust in me based on my promise to them to serve no more than two terms, and it was very important to me to not dishonor that trust.”

Allard served in the House of Representatives from 1991-1996.

During his Senate tenure, including a stint as chairman of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Allard has advocated more military purchases of commercial satellite imagery, deployment of a national missile defense system and fixing problems with military space acquisition.

 

MDA Clears Lockheed To Begin THAAD Production

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has given Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md., the go-ahead for production of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

The company announced Jan. 3 that it received a $619 million MDA contract for the first two THAAD fire units, including 48 missile interceptors, six launchers and two fire control and communications units. The system is scheduled for fielding in 2009.

THAAD is designed to defend U.S. troops, allied forces, population centers and critical infrastructure against short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. It comprises a fire control and communications system, interceptors, launchers and a radar.

The THAAD interceptor uses hit-to-kill technology to destroy targets, and is the only weapon system that engages ballistic missiles at both endo- and exo-atmospheric altitudes. It will network with other missile defense systems to provide a layered defense, Tom McGrath, a Lockheed Martin vice president and THAAD program manager, said in a company statement.

Final assembly, integration and testing will take place at Lockheed’s manufacturing facilities in Troy, Ala., and Camden, Ark.

The Pike County Operation in Troy includes a 4,000 s square-meter, $12 million plant constructed specifically for THAAD interceptor integration, assembly and test operations.

 

Law Students Unite To Oppose XM-Sirius Merger

Law students at the George Washington University in Washington have formed an advocacy group to oppose a possible merger of the two main U.S. satellite radio providers.

The Consumer Coalition for Competition in Satellite Radio is concerned about a possible merger between Washington-based XM Satellite Radio and New York-based Sirius Satellite Radio, according to founder Chris Reale, a second-year law student at George Washington. Such a merger has been discussed openly by Sirius and XM executives in recent weeks.

If such a merger were approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, customers might have to contend with reduced programming options, higher prices or additional commercials that would interrupt content, Reale said in a phone interview Jan. 16.

The coalition’s main goal for 2007 is to increase public awareness of the possibility of an XM-Sirius combo and of the problems for consumers it would create, he said.

DataPath Orders Additional ViaSat Network Equipment DataPath Inc. of Duluth, Ga., has ordered an additional $5.2 million worth of satellite networking equipment from ViaSat Inc. for mobile communications systems that it is building for the U.S. military.

ViaSat’s commercial LinkWay very small aperture terminals will be incorporated into trailer-based satellite terminals to provide reliable communications in the field, ViaSat of Carlsbad, Calif., said in a Jan. 3 press release.

Online Gamers Compete For Suborbital Space Trip

Technology giants Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., and Advanced Micro Devices of Sunnyvale, Calif., have created an Internet-based global collaborative puzzle game where the grand prize is a ride to suborbital space.

The game, dubbed Vanishing Point, is a series of online puzzles that registered contestants around the world race to complete. The game was created in conjunction with the planned Jan. 30 release of Windows Vista, the latest version of Microsoft Windows.

In a Jan. 8 press release, Rocketplane Limited Inc., a space tourism venture, said the grand prize winner will receive a ride to suborbital space aboard one of its vehicles. Rocketplane Limited is a subsidiary of Rocketplane Kistler of Oklahoma City, Okla., which is developing an orbital reusable rocket dubbed K-1 under a NASA sponsored effort.

John Herrington, a former NASA astronaut and director of flight operations for Rocketplane, will pilot the unnamed vehicle, the release said.

The flight likely will take place in 2009 aboard the planned Rocketplane XP suborbital vehicle. The winner will be announced around Feb. 2, according to Rocketplane spokeswoman Angela Brock.


EMS 
System To Help Detect Marine Pollution

Transport Canada has outfitted one of its National Aerial Surveillance Program Dash 8 aircraft with a satellite-based high-speed data system developed by EMS Satcom of Ottawa.

The aircraft equipped with the system completed flight acceptance tests in November, EMS said in a Jan. 9 press release.

EMS Satcom’s system enables the aircraft to immediately transmit information on water pollution caused by ships, according the press release. This enables authorities to respond more quickly to infractions, improving enforcement of environmental regulations, the release said.

The EMS system incorporates Swedish Space Corp.’s Maritime Surveillance System into its own eNfusion system, the release said. The Swedish Space Corp.’s system uses radar to collect information about what is occurring on the surface of the water, such as oil spills or environmental changes. Adding

EMS’s satellite-based system will allow the authorities to avoid any gaps in the transmission of data that could occur when terrestrial systems are hindered by bad weather or other problems.

EMS will outfit another Dash 8 aircraft with the system later this year, the release said. Financial details of the contract were not disclosed.

Spire Corp. To Develop Power Cells for NASA

NASA’s John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland awarded a two-year, $600,000 contract to Spire Corp. to develop electricity-generating cells for use on space missions, according to a Jan. 16 press release from Spire, Bedford, Mass.

The thermo photovoltaic cells convert heat generated by nuclear reactors into electricity, according to Edward Gagnon, a general manager for Spire’s subsidiary, Bandwidth Semiconductor LLC, located in Hudson, N.H.

NASA is interested in the technology as a possible power source for long-lasting space missions, Gagnon said in a phone interview Jan. 16.

Spire has worked on energy conversion technology for NASA for around 15 years, Gagnon said.

 

XCOR Aerospace Tests Methane Engine Prototype

XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., has successfully completed an initial round of test firings of its 7,500-pound-thrust methane-fueled rocket engine developed for NASA, the company announced Jan. 16.

The prototype engine, fueled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen, performed six short-duration test firings from Dec. 12 to Dec. 21, according to XCOR spokeswoman Aleta Jackson. The tests are designed to determine the appropriate length of the chamber for a flight-weight version of the engine.

XCOR is working on methane engine technology for possible use on future space missions under a $3.3 million subcontract to Alliant Techsystems of Edina, Minn., whose contract with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is worth $10.4 million. KT Engineering of Huntsville, Ala., is working on similar engine technology under a $5.8 million contract.

The prototype used in the recent testing, dubbed 5M15, does not have a cooling system, which was omitted to save costs. XCOR is working on a prototype with a cooling system that it hopes to deliver in the next few months, Jackson said.

The technology would feed into the flight-weight version of the engine that Alliant Techsystems hopes to build for a NASA ground testing effort.

Group Tests Method for Finding Interference

Source Technology designed to help companies quickly identify the source of inadvertent satellite interference was successfully tested in December as part of a joint effort by satellite companies and an industry group to address the growing problem of satellite disruptions.

“When a mobile satellite truck arrives for a one-off event, or a [satellite news gathering] truck gets to a breaking news story, the operator generally has limited time to coordinate the uplink,” Robert Ames, president of the Satellite Users Interface Reduction Group (SUIRG), said in a Dec. 21 press release announcing the test. Occasionally that haste causes a hurried operator to uplink to the wrong satellite, or use an incorrect frequency or polarization,
Ames, added.

Rapid identification of such interference would minimize the disruption of service to other users, Ames said in a Jan. 3 interview. In a demonstration of one technique for rapid identification, Colem Communications of Iwerne Courtney, U.K., Link Research Ltd. of Watford, U.K., and Sat Corp. of Houston equipped a satellite news van with software and cabling that allowed them to introduce a signature into the van’s signal that revealed its location and source, Ames said.

SUIRG, based in Punta Gorda, Fla., organized the test, which took place at a Dec. 7 meeting of the World Broadcasting Union’s International Satellite Operations Group. The test was conducted at Intelsat’s

Washington headquarters. SES New Skies of The Hague, Netherlands, provided the use of its satellites and Intelsat provided its data center for the demonstration. Software on the ground decoded the signal when it was transmitted so that the information about the offending transmitter could be received separately from the news van’s data transmission.

The rapid source identification test was the first in a series of trials that are intended to result in the adoption of uploads that the group hopes to convince companies in the business to adopt as an industry standard, Ames said.