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Rocket Nozzles

Review of Nozzle Performance
Review of Converging Nozzle Operation
Review of Converging-Diverging Nozzle Operation

3 Primary Types of Nozzles


Aerospike Nozzle Details

Altitude Compensation and Off-Design Operation

Nozzle produces thrust
Convert thermal energy of hot chamber
gases into kinetic energy and direct that
energy along nozzle axis
Exhaust gases from combustion are
pushed into throat region of nozzle
Throat is smaller cross-sectional area than
rest of engine gases are compressed to
high pressure
Nozzle gradually increases in cross-
sectional area allowing gases to expand
and push against walls creating thrust
Mathematically, ultimate purpose of
nozzle is to expand gases as efficiently as
possible so as to maximize exit velocity

F m eVe Pe Pa Ae
F m eVe
Expansion Area Ratio:
Most important parameter in nozzle design is expansion area ratio,

Aexit Ae
Athroat A
Fixing other variables (primarily chamber pressure) only one ratio that
optimizes performance for a given altitude (or ambient pressure)
However, rocket does not travel at only one altitude
Should know trajectory to select expansion ratio that maximizes
performance over a range of ambient pressures
Other factors must also be considered
Nozzle weight, length, manufacturability, cooling (heat transfer), and
aerodynamic characteristics.


Configuration for converging-diverging (CD) nozzle is shown below
Gas flows through nozzle from region of high pressure (chamber) to low pressure (ambient)
The chamber is taken as big enough so that any flow velocities are negligible
Gas flows from chamber into converging portion of nozzle, past the throat, through the
diverging portion and then exhausts into the ambient as a jet
Pressure of ambient is referred to as back pressure

All practical rockets operate in regimes (e)-(g)

Figure (a) shows the flow through the nozzle when it is completely subsonic (i.e. nozzle isn't choked). The flow accelerates out of the chamber through
the converging section, reaching its maximum (subsonic) speed at the throat. The flow then decelerates through the diverging section and exhausts into
the ambient as a subsonic jet. Lowering the back pressure in this state increases the flow speed everywhere in the nozzle.

Further lowering pb results in figure (b). The flow pattern is exactly the same as in subsonic flow, except that the flow speed at the throat has just
reached Mach 1. Flow through the nozzle is now choked since further reductions in the back pressure can't move the point of M=1 away from the
throat. However, the flow pattern in the diverging section does change as the back pressure is lowered further.

As pb is lowered below that needed to just choke the flow a region of supersonic flow forms just downstream of the throat. Unlike a subsonic flow, the
supersonic flow accelerates as the area gets bigger. This region of supersonic acceleration is terminated by a normal shock wave. The shock wave
produces a near-instantaneous deceleration of the flow to subsonic speed. This subsonic flow then decelerates through the remainder of the diverging
section and exhausts as a subsonic jet. In this regime if the back pressure is lowered or raised the length of supersonic flow in the diverging section
before the shock wave increases or decreases, respectively.
If pb is lowered enough the supersonic region may be extended all the way down the nozzle until the shock is sitting at the nozzle exit, figure (d).
Because of the very long region of acceleration (the entire nozzle length) the flow speed just before the shock will be very large. However, after the
shock the flow in the jet will still be subsonic.

Lowering the back pressure further causes the shock to bend out into the jet, figure (e), and a complex pattern of shocks and reflections is set up in the
jet which will now involve a mixture of subsonic and supersonic flow, or (if the back pressure is low enough) just supersonic flow. Because the shock
is no longer perpendicular to the flow near the nozzle walls, it deflects it inward as it leaves the exit producing an initially contracting jet. We refer to
this as over-expanded flow because in this case the pressure at the nozzle exit is lower than that in the ambient (the back pressure)- i.e. the flow has
been expanded by the nozzle too much.

A further lowering of the back pressure changes and weakens the wave pattern in the jet. Eventually, the back pressure will be lowered enough so that
it is now equal to the pressure at the nozzle exit. In this case, the waves in the jet disappear altogether, figure (f), and the jet will be uniformly
supersonic. This situation, since it is often desirable, is referred to as the 'design condition, Pe=Pa.

Finally, if the back pressure is lowered even further we will create a new imbalance between the exit and back pressures (exit pressure greater than
back pressure), figure (g). In this situation, called under-expanded, expansion waves that produce gradual turning and acceleration in the jet form at
the nozzle exit, initially turning the flow at the jet edges outward in a plume and setting up a different type of complex wave pattern.
Effect of Flow Separation
For higher external pressures, separation of the flow will
take place inside the divergent portion of the nozzle.
The diameter of the supersonic jet will be smaller than
the nozzle exit diameter.
The axial location of the separation plane depends on the
local pressure and the wall contour.
The point of separation travels downstream with
decreasing external pressure.
At the nozzle exit the flow in the center portion remains
supersonic, but is surrounded by an annular shaped
section of subsonic flow.
There is a discontinuity at the separation location and the
thrust is reduced, compared to a nozzle that would have
been cut off at the separation plane.
Shock waves exist outside the nozzle in the external
The axial thrust direction is not usually altered by
separation, because a steady flow usually separates
uniformly over a cross-section in a divergent nozzle
cone of conventional rocket design.
Effect of Flow Separation
During transients, such as start and stop, the separation may not be axially
symmetric and may cause momentary but large side forces on the nozzle.
During a normal sea-level transient of a large rocket nozzle (before the chamber
pressure reaches its full value) some momentary flow oscillations and non-
symmetric separation of the jet can occur during over-expanded flow operation.
The magnitude and direction of transient side forces can change rapidly and
The resulting side forces can be large and have caused failures of nozzle exit
cone structures and thrust vector control gimbal actuators.
Techniques for estimating these side forces are required.
For most applications, the rocket system has to operate over a range of altitudes;
for a fixed chamber pressure this implies a range of nozzle pressure ratios. The
condition of optimum expansion (P2 = P3) occurs only at one altitude, and a
nozzle with a fixed area ratio is therefore operating much of the time at either
over-expanded or under-expanded conditions.
The best nozzle for such an application is not necessarily one that gives optimum
nozzle gas expansion, but one that gives the largest vehicle flight performance
Static pressure at exit of Space Shuttle Main
Engine nozzle is considerably less than ambient
pressure at sea level

Mismatch in pressure gives rise to Mach disc

in nozzle exhaust

Extremely strong shock wave that creates a

region of subsonic flow and produces a
characteristic white luminescent glow

Flow in picture is over-expanded (lift-off)

Sea Level: Over-Expanded
Rockets operate at this condition at take-off

Intermediate Altitude: Ideally-Expanded

Typically occurs at only 1 point in rocket flight

High Altitude: Under-Expanded

3 primary groups of nozzle types
1. Cone (conical, linear)
2. Bell (contoured, shaped, classic converging-diverging)
3. Annular (spike, aerospike, plug, expansion, expansion-deflection)
Used in early rocket applications because of simplicity and ease of construction
Cone gets its name from the fact that the walls diverge at a constant angle
A small angle produces greater thrust, because it maximizes the axial component
of exit velocity and produces a high specific impulse
Penalty is longer and heavier nozzle that is more complex to build
At the other extreme, size and weight are minimized by a large nozzle wall angle
Large angles reduce performance at low altitude because high ambient
pressure causes overexpansion and flow separation
Primary Metric of Characterization: Divergence Loss

All 3 nozzles have same Ae/A*
Red dashed lines indicate contours of normal flow

Flow is almost entirely axial

(Best is uniform axial flow)

Flow is mostly axial

Flow has significant radial component

Highly subject to separation
Thrust equation
Deviation of flow from axial (thrust direction) is called the divergence factor
Longer Nozzle Higher Thrust and Increased Weight
Conical Nozzle








0 10 20 30 40 50
Half Angle, degrees

1 cos

For a conical nozzle with half-angle , Ae D 2 L tan


length L, and diameter D*, the ratio A D
of exit to throat area is:

Solving for the Length of the nozzle D *
knowing the area ratio, throat diameter A
and desired nozzle half angle 2 tan

Throat diameter D* is fixed by combustion chamber conditions and desired thrust

Nozzle length and mass are strongly dependent on
For area ratio of 100, L/D* = 7.8 for 30 and 16.8 for 15
Reducing from 30 to 15 would more than double the mass of divergent
portion of the nozzle
Bell is most commonly used nozzle shape
Offers significant advantages over conical nozzle, both in size and performance
Bell consists of two sections
Near throat, nozzle diverges at relatively large angle, (1)
Degree of divergence tapers off further downstream
Near nozzle exit, divergence angle is very small ~2-8, (2)
Minimize weight / maximize performance ~10-25% shorter than conic
Issue is to contour nozzle to avoid oblique shocks and maximize performance
Remember: Shape only optimum at one altitude

Comparison of Conical and Bell nozzle
The expansion occurs
internally in the flow
between the throat and the
inflection location where the
area is steadily increasing
like a flare on a trumpet.
The contour angle i is a
maximum at the inflection
the difference between i
and e is called the turn back
Two Step Nozzles
Several modifications of a bell-shaped nozzle have evolved that
allow full or almost complete altitude compensation; they achieve
maximum performance at more than a single altitude.
The extendible nozzle requires actuators, a power supply, and
mechanisms for moving the extension into position during flight,
fastening and sealing devices. It has successfully flown in several
solid rocket motor nozzles and in a few liquid engine
applications, where it was deployed prior to ignition.the principal
concerns are a reliable rugged mechanism to move the extension
into position, the hot gas seal between the nozzle sections, and the
extra weight involved.
The droppable insert concept avoids the moving mechanism and
gas seal but has a potential stagnation temperature problem at the
joint. It requires a reliable release mechanism, and the ejected
insert creates flying debris.
The dual bell nozzle concept uses two shortened bell nozzles
combined into one with a bump or inflection point between them,
during ascent it functions first at the lower area ratio, with
separation occurring at the inflection point. As altitude increases
and the gas expand further, the flow attaches itself downstream of
this point, with the flow filling the full nozzle exit section and
operating with the higher area ratio at higher performance. There
is a small performance penalty for a compromised bell nozzle
contour with a circular bump. To date there has been little
experience with this concept.
Annular (plug or altitude-compensating) nozzle
Least employed due to greater complexity, actually be best in theory
Annular: combustion occurs along ring, or annulus, around base of nozzle
Plug: refers to centerbody that blocks flow from what would be center portion
of traditional nozzle
Primary advantage: Altitude-compensating

Expansion ratio: area of centerbody must be taken into account

Aexit Aplug

Another parameter annular diameter ratio, Dplug / Dthroat
Ratio is used as a measure of nozzle geometry for comparison with other plug
nozzle shapes
Two major types of annular nozzles have been developed to date
Distinguished by method in which they expand exhaust: (1) outward or (2) inward

1. Radial Out-Flow Nozzles

Examples of this type are the expansion-deflection (E-D), reverse-flow
(R-F), and horizontal-flow (H-F) nozzles

2. Radial In-Flow Nozzles

Spike nozzles, linear-aerospike nozzle for X-33
Picture shows an example of an Expansion-
Deflection (E-D) nozzle
Expansion-deflection nozzle works much like a
bell nozzle
Exhaust gases forced into a converging throat
before expanding in a bell-shaped nozzle
Flow is deflected by a plug, or centerbody, that
forces the gases away from center of nozzle and to
stay attached to nozzle walls
Centerbody position may move to optimize
As altitude or back-pressure varies, flow is free to
expand into void
This expansion into void allows the nozzle to
compensate for altitude
Pe adjusts to Pb within nozzle
Often referred to as spike nozzles
Named for prominent spike centerbody
Nozzle is only one of many possible spike configurations
(a) traditional curved spike with completely external supersonic expansion
(b) similar shape in which part of the expansion occurs internally
(c) design similar to E-D nozzle in which all expansion occurs internally

Each of spike nozzles features a curved, pointed spike

Most ideal shape
Spike shape allows exhaust gases to expand through isentropic process
Nozzle efficiency is maximized and no energy is lost because of turbulent mixing
Isentropic spike may be most efficient but tends to be prohibitively long and heavy
Replace curve shape by shorter and easier to construct cone ~1% performance loss
Further subclass of radial in-flow family of spike nozzles is known as aerospike
Go even further by removing pointed spike altogether and replace with a flat base
This configuration is known as a truncated spike
Disadvantage of "flat" plug is turbulent wake forms aft of base at high altitudes
resulting in high base drag and reduced efficiency
Alleviated by introducing a "base bleed," or secondary subsonic flow
Circulation of this secondary flow and its interaction with the engine exhaust
creates an "aerodynamic spike" that behaves much like the ideal, isentropic spike
Secondary flow re-circulates upward pushing on base to produce additional thrust
It is this artificial aerodynamic spike for which the aerospike nozzle is named
Still another variation of aerospike nozzle is linear (instead of annular)
Linear Aerospike pioneered by Rocketdyne (now division of Boeing) in 1970s
Places combustion chambers in a line along two sides of nozzle
Approach results in more versatile design
Use of lower-cost modular combustors
Modules can be combined in varying configurations depending on application.
Low Altitude Intermediate Altitude High Altitude
OVER-Expanded Ideally-Expanded Under-Expanded
Pe < Pa Pe = Pa Pe > Pa
Do not expand beyond
Pe=0.4 Pa
Ideal situation would be to have size of nozzle bell
increase as altitude increases
Altitude Adaptive Nozzles:
Dual-Bell Nozzle
Inserts, fixed and ejectable
Gas injection
Variable geometry (two-position)
Structural Considerations
Essentially only hoop or tangential stresses which are easiest to design for
Fabricated with walls of simple tubular construction that enables cooling in a
straightforward way
Matching to combustion chamber
Relatively easy to match the combustor, which is most naturally a simple

Over-Expansion Thrust Loss
Flow instability when over-expanded
May lead to uncertainty or unsteadiness of the thrust direction and dangerous
high frequency wobble
Smaller nozzle
Truncated spike far smaller than typical bell nozzle for same performance
Spike can give greater performance for a given length
Altitude compensation results in greater performance (no separation at over-expanded)
Less risk of failure
Aerospike engine use simple gas generator cycle with a lower chamber pressure
Low pressures reduced performance, high expansion ratio makes up for
Lower vehicle drag
Aerospike nozzle fills base portion of vehicle thereby reducing base drag
Modular combustion chambers
Linear aerospike engine is made up of small, easier to develop, less expensive
Thrust Vectoring
Combustion chambers controlled individually
Vehicle maneuvered using differential thrust vectoring
Eliminates heavy gimbals and actuators used to vary direction of nozzles
Central spike experiences far greater heat fluxes than does a bell nozzle
Addressed by truncating spike to reduce exposed area and by passing cold
cryogenically-cooled fuel through spike
Secondary flow also helps cool centerbody.
Aerospike is more complex and difficult to manufacture than bell nozzle
More costly
Flight experience
No aerospike engine has ever flown in a rocket application
Little flight design experience has been gained
Comparison Different Nozzle Length for given Area
How real nozzle differs from ideal nozzle?
In a real nozzle the flow is really two dimensional, but axisymmetric.
For simple single nozzle shapes the temperature and velocities are not uniform over any one section
and are usually higher in the central region and lower near the periphery.
Compared to an ideal nozzle, the real nozzle has more energy losses.
The principal losses are listed below:
The divergence of the floe in the nozzle exit section causes a loss which varies as a function of the
cosine of the divergence angle . The losses can be reduced by bell shaped contour nozzle.
Low contraction area ratio cause pressure losses in the chamber and reduce the thrust and exhaust
velocity slightly.
Lower flow velocity in the boundary layer or wall friction can reduce the effective exhaust velocity by
0.5 to 1.5%.
Solid particles or liquid droplets in the gas can cause losses upto 5%.
Unsteady combustion and oscillating flow can account for a small loss.
Chemical reactions in nozzle flow change the gas properties and gas temperatures, giving typically a
0.5% loss.
The re is lower performance during transient pressure operations.
The gradual erosion of the throat region increases the throat diameter by 1 to 6% during operation. This
will reduce the chamber pressure and thrust and a slight reduction in ISP .
Non uniform gas composition can reduce performance.
Operation at non optimum nozzle expansion area ratio can reduce thrust and specific impulse.
Design Consideration
The design of nozzle has three phases
1. Aerodynamics design
2. Thermal design (like thermal liner and insulator
selection, erosive effects and structural temperature
3. Structural design ( configured to support the thermal
components and predicted structure load etc)
The basic two configuration of the nozzle are
1. External nozzle
2. Submerged nozzle
The submerged nozzle are more efficiently in a
volume limited system. But design is more
complex than external nozzle. Because it directly
exposed to hot gases. The submerged nozzle have to
withstand the external pressure force in addition to
forces developed by the flow inside the nozzle.
Two basic contour
Most of the nozzle having a basic contour of conical and
bell contour nozzles.
Nozzles for solid propellant rocket motors can be classified
into five categories as listed below and shown
Fixed nozzle, movable nozzle , submerged nozzle,
extendible nozzle, blast tube mounted nozzle. etc
Design Consideration
Rocket applications require C-D type nozzles, 3 main varieties
Conical, weight limitations, characterized by divergence loss
Shaped (Bell), most widely used today
Annular (Spike, E-D, etc.) largest benefit is eliminates over-expansion, but
heavy and difficult to cool
Nozzles typically over-expanded at take-off and under-expanded at high altitude

Optimal design for shaped nozzle (M.O.C.) turns out to be too long and heavy
Better approach, shorted length and optimize for thrust, refine with M.O.C.