Figure 1 shows damage to the space shuttle’s external tank (ET) that was likely caused by a pea-sized hailstone. Because of the potential damage to the ET while exposed to the weather, it is important to remotely monitor the hail fall in the vicinity of the shuttle pad. If hail of sufficient size and quantity is detected by a hail-monitoring system, the ET would be subsequently thoroughly inspected for damage.

Figure 1. This Example of Hail Damage on the surface of the shuttle’s external tank likely was caused by a pea-sized hailstone.
An inexpensive and simple hail monitor design has been developed that has a single piezoelectric ceramic disc and uses a metal plate as a sounding board. The structure is durable and able to withstand the launch environment. This design has several advantages over a multi-ceramic sensor, including reduced cost and complexity, increased durability, and improvement in impact response uniformity over the active surface. However, the most important characteristic of this design is the potential to use frequency discrimination between the spectrum created from raindrop impact and a hailstone impact. The sound of hail hitting a metal plate is distinctly different from the sound of rain hitting the same plate. This fortuitous behavior of the pyramid sensor may lead to a signal processing strategy, which is inherently more reliable than one depending on amplitude processing only.

Figure 2. The prototype of the Hall Monitor Sensor uses a single piezoelectric ceramic disc with a metal plate as a sounding board. The concept was improved by forming a shallow pyramid structure so that hail would bounce away from the sensor and not be counted more than once.
The initial concept has been improved by forming a shallow pyramid structure so that hail is encouraged to bounce away from the sensor so as not to be counted more than once. The sloped surface also discourages water from collecting. Additionally, the final prototype version includes a mounting box for the piezo-ceramic, which is offset from the pyramid apex, thus helping to reduce non-uniform response (see Figure 2).

The frequency spectra from a single raindrop impact and a single ice ball impact have been compared. The most notable feature of the frequency resonant peaks is the ratio of the 5.2 kHz to 3.1 kHz components. In the case of a raindrop, this ratio is very small. But in the case of an ice ball, the ratio is roughly one third. This frequency signature of ice balls should provide a robust method for discriminating raindrops from hailstones.

Considering that hail size distributions (HSDs) and fall rates are roughly 1 percent that of rainfall, hailstone sizes range from a few tenths of a centimeter to several centimeters. There may be considerable size overlap between large rain and small hail. As hail occurs infrequently at KSC, the ideal HSD measurement sensor needs to have a collection area roughly 100 times greater than a raindrop-size distribution sensor or disdrometer. The sensitivity should be such that it can detect and count very small hail in the midst of intense rainfall consisting of large raindrop sizes. The dynamic range and durability should allow measurement of the largest hail sizes, and the operation and calibration strategy should consider the infrequent occurrence of hail fall over the KSC area.

This work was done by Robert Youngquist of Kennedy Space Center; William Haskell of Sierra Lobo, Inc.; and Christopher Immer, Bobby Cox, and John Lane of ASRC Aerospace. KSC-12594