Nozzle Alignment

When the thrust line or direction does not intersect the center of mass of a flying vehicle, a turning moment will tend to rotate a vehicle in flight. Turning moments are desirable and necessary for the controlled turning or attitude control of a vehicle as is routinely done by means of the deflection of the thrust vector, aerodynamic fins, or by separate attitude control rocket engines. However, this turning is undesirable when its magnitude or direction is not known; this happens when a fixed nozzle of a major propulsion system has its thrust axis misaligned. A large high-thrust booster rocket system, even if misaligned by a very small angle (less than 50), can cause major upsetting turning moments for the firing duration. If not corrected or compensated, such a small misalignment can cause the flight vehicle to tumble and/or deviate from the intended flight path. For this moment not to exceed the vehicle's compensating attitude control capability, it is necessary to align the nozzle axis of all propulsion systems with fixed (non-gimbal) nozzles very accurately. Normally, the geometric axis of the nozzle diverging exit surface geometry is taken to be the thrust axis. Special alignment fixtures are usually needed to orient the nozzle axis to be within less than ±0.25° of the intended line to the vehicle's center of gravity and to position the center of a large nozzle throat to be on the vehicle centerline, say within 1 or 2 mm. See Ref. 3-15.

There are other types of misalignments: (1) irregularities in the nozzle geometry (out of round, protuberances, or unsymmetrical roughness in the surface); (2) transient misalignments during start to stop; (3) uneven deflection of the propulsion system or vehicle structure under load; and (4) irregularities in the gas flow (faulty injector, uneven burning rate in solid propellants). For simple unguided rocket vehicles it has been customary to rotate or spin the vehicle to prevent the misalignment from being in one direction only or to even out the misalignment during powered flight.

In the cramped volume of spacecraft or upper stage launch vehicles, it is sometimes not possible to accommodate the full length of a large-area-ratio nozzle within the available vehicle envelope. In this case the nozzles are cut off at an angle at the vehicle surface, which allows a compact installation. Figure 3-17 shows a diagram of two (out of four) roll control thrusters whose nozzle exit conforms to the vehicle contour. The thrust direction of a scarfed nozzle is

Geometric centerline of nozzle

Geometric centerline of nozzle

FIGURE 3-17. Simplified partial section of a flight vehicle showing two attitude control thrusters with scarfed nozzles to fit a cylindrical vehicle envelope.

no longer on the nozzle axis centerline, as it is with fully symmetrical nozzles, and the nozzle exit flow will not be axisymmetric. Reference 3-16 shows how to estimate the performance and thrust direction of scarfed nozzles

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