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Sierra Peaks’ Event Sequencer: The Heart of Test Facilities

Sierra Peaks' Event Sequencer: The Heart of Test Facilities

While the space race has passed, scientists continue to increase the efficiency, speed, and safety of technology. When developers test rocket motors or containers for transporting nuclear waste, they are safeguarding the operators of these equipments as well as our country. Although the average American has never stepped foot on a test range, much less seen an event sequencer, every American feels the impact of the results from these testing facilities just as we did with the space race.

A defender of security, Sierra Peaks Corporation (Sierra Peaks) designs and manufactures equipment and systems for automated test and data acquisition. The automated tests are for high energy experiments, missile tests, explosives, and nuclear waste transit containers, at extreme conditions like high speeds, temperatures, and pressures. Sierra Peaks, a developer of custom systems and security products for the government and law enforcement communities, acquired Mechtronic Solutions to expand production of high-quality security devices and test systems. Mechtronic Solutions and Sierra Peaks offer many test solutions, including test stands and high-speed data recording, but the conductor of the orchestra is the event sequencer system.

A firing system for explosives

An event sequencer is a system comprised of both hardware and software that is integrated with other systems. Tim Brooks, Director of Business Development at Sierra Peaks, explains, “An event sequencer allows an end user to trigger events to very precise timing resolutions that is done through the GPS time codes. You can also bring in events to trigger other events.” An event sequencer is typically the heart of specialized test facilities.

Think of an event sequencer as a robust form of a triggering system used to control fireworks shows on the 4th of July. A technician connects the fireworks firing system to the mortars of the fireworks and programs the fireworks to go off in time with the music. It’s the same for an event sequencer, but instead of fireworks, it may be explosions, and instead of music, it’s timing to fractions of a second with GPS time codes.

One big difference between a fireworks firing system and an event sequencer? Timing.

Precise timing matters

A fireworks firing system works at about a second resolution timing. Sierra Peaks’ event sequencer is a thousand times more precise and works to the microsecond. One second might not seem like a long time, but when synchronizing missile launches every microsecond counts. To put it in perspective, a high speed camera may capture thousands of frames in one second. That’s a lot of action in one second!

For precise timing, you need a precise clock. Sierra Peaks’ event sequencer syncs with the time codes of GPS satellites that produce microsecond resolution. Satellite time also allows for the event sequencer to be used over large geographic areas. At over 47,000 square miles, the Woomera Test Range in Australia is one of the largest missile testing facilities in the world and uses event sequencers for synchronizing tests.

Another important aspect of the event sequencer is that it functions in real time. What’s real time? Tim Brooks answers, “I’m sure you’ve had an experience where you tell your computer to do something and it will decide when to execute. That’s non-real timing. Real time or deterministic time is when events happen when you tell them to happen. Not when the computer decides, but when you choose to have the event happen. So if I tell the system to start in 15 seconds, it will start in 15 seconds.” An exact start time is integral for a test to run smoothly.

Countdown to launch

In the 1960s, NASA used a human operator to verbally countdown the launch of spaceships and rockets. Now we use text-to-speech voices for their convenience and consistent clarity. Sierra Peaks’ event sequencer uses NeoSpeech’s text-to-speech voices for countdowns and status update messages.

Scott Ehlers from Sierra Peaks talks about the time delay from their past text-to-speech provider: “We would send a text string to the sequence engine once a second and found that it took a significant fraction of a second for the sequence engine to even start to play the text. This leads to a disconnect between the time of the countdown and the audible rendering of the countdown time.” When testing powerful equipment, even a fraction of a second counts. NeoSpeech’s text-to-speech software delivers high-quality audio at near-instantaneous speeds to help Sierra Peaks’ rigorous testing stay on time.

The advances of technology are thrilling and daunting. While researchers are eager to improve our capabilities, they also want to minimize undesired side effects. Sierra Peaks provides tools to assist innovators with testing equipment safely. With developers testing their designs before official launches, hopefully we can countdown to a safer world.

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