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When I got it right, the big problem to overcome for SpaceX was, to get the right technique to land the first stage properly.

This requires the first stage also to have enough fuel, so it can burn the the delta V away before it touches down.

But wouldn't it be possible to simply land the first stage by using parachutes? (obvisiously not, as people would do it allready)

So why this wouldn't work?

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  • $\begingroup$ 1) Parachutes come with a weight disadvantage as well. 2) They add extra equipment / complications / possible points of failure.. 3) Make it harder to control the landing place. 4) Don't give the same ability to reduce the speed of fall to near 0 at touchdown as do the engines with fuel approach. .. $\endgroup$ – Andrew Thompson Aug 24 '16 at 5:50
  • $\begingroup$ @AndrewThompson: But if the loss of the first stage in every launch is the source of a factor of x100 for the costs, as SpaceX claims, wouldn't be the weight disadvantage of chutes be somewhat afordable in fuel costs, compared to 100 times the costs for jsut loosing the first stage? It seems to me, your arguments are valid, but can't be the full reason. $\endgroup$ – Zaibis Aug 24 '16 at 5:56
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    $\begingroup$ I don't get what you're saying. Whether to use either extra fuel or parachutes costs weight, but the fuel approach brings advantages the chutes cannot (accuracy, low landing speed, using existing equipment in the form of the engines..). $\endgroup$ – Andrew Thompson Aug 24 '16 at 5:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Zaibis: One aspect not mentioned is that SpaceX intends to eventually land large vehicles on Mars, where parachutes would be impractical (due to both the size of the lander and the thinness of the atmosphere). Recovering their boosters this way gives them practical experience for that eventual goal. Even NASA's piggybacking on their results because it's useful for a wide variety of interplanetary landers. $\endgroup$ – John Bode Aug 25 '16 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Zaibis: Also, SpaceX did originally try to use parachutes for the Falcon 1 and first couple of Falcon 9s, but they didn't work. Turns out powered descent and landing was easier. $\endgroup$ – John Bode Aug 25 '16 at 21:05

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