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I was looking at pictures of a test fire of a TR-106 engine, and it appears to be fairly under-expanded.

What's the reason for this? Does this somehow increase efficiency with this specific engine?

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have any information on the test-fire this picture came from? It's probably just a chamber test and not using a complete nozzle. $\endgroup$ Jul 20 '17 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ @RussellBorogove the description of the picture reads "A TRW 650K Low Cost Pintle Engine undergoes hot fire testing at SSC's E-1 test stand." I don't have any other information on the test. $\endgroup$ Jul 20 '17 at 16:41
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There's no good reason to run a production rocket engine underexpanded at ground level; it loses efficiency and will only become more underexpanded as it gains altitude.

If you compare the shape of that nozzle and the size of the combustion chamber to pretty much any other rocket engine, it's clear that this is a very short nozzle.

The curve of the expanding exhaust plume gives a pretty good idea of what the nozzle should actually look like -- 3-4 times the length of the existing nozzle stub.

Therefore, I believe this is is a test of the combustion chamber only. Since the TR-106 is ablatively cooled, there's no point in fabricating a disposable nozzle extension for early tests, and the more compact engine is easier to transport and install.

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