A. Thrust Misalignment

A. Thrust Misalignment
A. Thrust Misalignment
Thrust misalignment occurs due to a difference in the direction of forces as compared to
the axis of our launch vehicle. Misalignment causes moments about the launch vehicle
due to a radial component of thrust and a decrease in axial thrust. If moments are not
taken into account due to the misalignment, the structural integrity of the launch vehicle
is compromised.
Also, the decrease in axial force causes the need for additional
propellant for the launch vehicle to meet its objective. Below is a figure to illustrate the
thrust offset that may occur.
Fig. A8. Illustration of difference between actual thrust and axial thrust.
(Nicole Wilcox)
In the above figure, the force, F, is the desired force and would occur in an ideal situation
of which no misalignment occurs during design, manufacturing, or flight. The force, Fm,
is the force that occurs due to physical misalignment of the nozzle or engine. The force,
Fo, is the actual force that occurs due to all thrust offsets that may occur. The total thrust
offset angle is described by α. During spin stabilization, it is important to account for the
thrust angle offset so that the velocity pointing error may be minimized.1
During manufacturing and assembly of the nozzle, bumps, scratches, and dents inside the
nozzle can cause unexpected shocks which may alter the overall performance of the
Author: Nicole Wilcox
A. Thrust Misalignment
nozzle.2 During assembly specifically, the nozzle may be misaligned itself by a few
hundredths of a degree. The actual misalignment of the nozzle is what is typically
thought of as creating the thrust misalignment, however, many more causes may be to
During flight, nozzle erosion, mass flow misalignment (swirl torque), and chamber
pressure changes may cause nozzle distortions.2 The Vanguard rocket had much larger
thrust misalignments due to chamber pressure changes causing distortion of the chamber
near the throat. During burning, the chamber would increase in volume due to the
pressure changes causing distortions or misalignments of up to 0.38 degrees.3 Industry
standard for thrust misalignments today are less than 0.25 degrees and most are near 0.15
degrees for solid rocket motors.1,2
For solid rockets, the unsymmetrical burning of
ablative cooling materials may allow additional heat transfer to one side of the chamber
causing bubbling or melting.4
The above factors usually occur in slow increments
throughout flight, but some misalignments may occur rapidly.
Rapid misalignments occur as a result of unsymmetrical burning of solid or hybrid fuels
or ablative materials.2 If the chamber walls become excessively hot, even momentarily,
the walls may deform. In an unsymmetrical case, this would cause misalignment toward
the opposite radial direction of the rapidly heated portion of chamber. Other rapid causes
could include denting or scratching of internal nozzle structure due to solid propellant or
ablative materials ejecting without burning.2
Low tolerances for thrust misalignment are important. As little as one degree may create
a radial force that is 1.75 % thrust produced. For any vehicle this causes a need for:
additional control capabilities
added structural integrity
additional propellant
additional battery capabilities for control systems
Author: Nicole Wilcox
A. Thrust Misalignment
All of the above necessities require that the launch vehicle mass increases. We are trying
to minimize cost which is a strong function of the mass of the vehicle. Therefore, thrust
misalignment must be accounted for, but minimized.
When designing an engine nozzle, tolerances are set on the physical misalignment of the
nozzle assembly. However, average misalignment and standard deviation data is found
through testing engines or computational fluid dynamic models. Due to the nature of this
class, neither was possible and average offsets and standard deviations from historical
data were used. Below is a table showing the averages and standard deviations used:
Table A. Thrust Misalignment
Rocket Motor
Average (deg)
Standard Deviation (deg)
0.09 1,2
0.04 2
When scaling the thrust offsets, I used a linear method as shown in the Eqs.
(A. & (A.
S design 
(Eqn. A.
S historical
where α is the angle offset and T is the tolerance.
 design 
 historical
(Eqn. A.
where α is the angle offset and T is the tolerance.
Due to the difficulty in finding historical data for hybrid rocket motors, we used an
average between liquid and solid rocket motors. Liquid rocket motor data was taken
from the Vanguard report due to the higher tolerances offered in the report. Using the
average seems a reasonable assumption due to added possibility of a liquid injector offset
that would further increase the overall thrust offset angle.
Author: Nicole Wilcox
A. Thrust Misalignment
This analysis was a significant iteration through the Monte Carlo analysis that ultimately
decided the success of our launch vehicle. We can ensure that our launch vehicle is
successful with the numbers chosen because they were the maximum numbers found
from historical data. Greater thrust misalignments would entail an over designed launch
vehicle. Over designing the vehicle is not feasible due to the additional costs associated.
Javorsek, D., and Longuski, J.M., “Velocity Pointing Errors Associated with Spinning Thrusting
Spacecraft,” Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, Vol. 37, No. 3, 2000, pp. 359-360.
Knauber, R.N., “Thrust Misalignments of Fixed-Nozzle Solid Rocket Motors,” Journal of Spacecraft and
Rockets, Vol. 33, No. 6, 1996, pp. 794-799.
Klaurans, B. “The Vanguard Satellite Launching Vehicle,” The Martin Company. No. 11022, April 1964.
Humble, R. W., Henry, G. N., Larson, W. J., Space Propulsion Analysis and Design, McGraw-Hill, New
York, NY, 1995.
Author: Nicole Wilcox