A high-rate data system was required to capture the data for an airborne lidar system. A data system was developed that achieved up to 22 million (64-bit) events per second sustained data rate (1408 million bits per second), as well as short bursts (<4 s) at higher rates. All hardware used for the system was off the shelf, but carefully selected to achieve these rates. The system was used to capture laser fire, single-photon detection, and GPS data for the Slope Imaging Multi-polarization Photo-counting Lidar (SIMPL). However, the system has applications for other laser altimeter systems (waveform-recording), mass spectroscopy, x-ray radiometry imaging, high-background-rate ranging lidar, and other similar areas where very highspeed data capture is needed.

The data capture software was used for the SIMPL instrument that employs a micropulse, single-photon ranging measurement approach and has 16 data channels. The detected single photons are from two sources — those reflected from the target and solar background photons. The instrument is non-gated, so background photons are acquired for a range window of 13 km and can comprise many times the number of target photons. The highest background rate occurs when the atmosphere is clear, the Sun is high, and the target is a highly reflective surface such as snow. Under these conditions, the total data rate for the 16 channels combined is expected to be approximately 22 million events per second.

For each photon detection event, the data capture software reads the relative time of receipt, with respect to a one-persecond absolute time pulse from a GPS receiver, from an event timer card with 0.1-ns precision, and records that information to a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) storage device. The relative time of laser pulse firings must also be read and recorded with the same precision. Each of the four event timer cards handles the throughput from four of the channels. For each detection event, a flag is recorded that indicates the source channel. To accommodate the expected maximum count rate and also handle the other extreme of very low rates occurring during nighttime operations, the software requests a set amount of data from each of the event timer cards and buffers the data. The software notes if any of the cards did not return all the data requested and then accommodates that lower rate. The data is buffered to minimize the I/O overhead of writing the data to storage. Care was taken to optimize the reads from the cards, the speed of the I/O bus, and RAID configuration.

This work was done by Susan Valett, Edward Hicks, Philip Dabney, and David Harding of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-16018-1