Rocket Exhaust

This image of the Apollo 11 launch shows the Saturn V’s underexpanded nozzle (identifiable by the excessive width of the exhaust jet) shortly after liftoff. The faint diamond shape of the exhaust is a series of shock waves and expansion fans that equalize the exhaust pressure to the ambient. In general, a rocket nozzle is most efficient when it expands the exhaust to ambient pressure, but, since ambient pressure changes with altitude, designers have to choose a particular altitude for peak efficiency or design a nozzle capable of changing its shape with altitude.

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