Could light weight inflatable heat shields be used like parachutes from NASA to increase surface area for the SpaceX Mars lander further decreasing velocity? Where would be the best placement of them? Could be used as a cover for the ship from dust or shelter.

Could weight from the lander be placed on an inflatable heat shields and separate just before landing lightening the loads? Keep a small one on board for a life raft?

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enter image description here Although not related this somewhat an example how it would work. The difference is that the last 3 stages would just be the lander landing.

  • $\begingroup$ I didn't know mars entry even required heat shields. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 6:54

1 Answer 1


NASA is looking into this with their Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator program.

NASA's Low Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) Technology Demonstration Mission, led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., will conduct full-scale, stratospheric tests of these breakthrough technologies high above Earth to prove their value for future missions to Mars.

Three devices are in development. The first two are supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerators -- very large, durable, balloon-like pressure vessels that inflate around the entry vehicle and slow it from Mach 3.5 or greater to Mach 2 or lower. These decelerators are being developed in 6-meter-diameter and 8-meter-diameter configurations. Also in development is a 30.5-meter-diameter parachute that will further slow the entry vehicle from Mach 1.5 or Mach 2 to subsonic speeds. All three devices will be the largest of their kind ever flown at speeds several times greater than the speed of sound.

Together, these new drag devices can increase payload delivery to the surface of Mars from our current capability of 1.5 metric tons to 2 to 3 metric tons, depending on which inflatable decelerator is used in combination with the parachute.

The test model has the test stage embedded in the middle of the inflatable structure:

LDSD test

Note that this only works for small missions (3 tons lander weight). SpaceX's Mars lander (the BFS) weighs more than 100 tons.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Wonder where you found that picture. That's me on the left with a stupid expression on my face. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Adler
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 4:19
  • $\begingroup$ I found that picture here: nasa.gov/image-feature/low-density-supersonic-decelerator-0 $\endgroup$
    – Hobbes
    Commented Sep 27, 2018 at 11:39
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkAdler I would have guessed real experts are here. I feel privileged and hope my concepts help more then harm. What is the largest heat shield like this possible? $\endgroup$
    – Muze
    Commented Sep 29, 2018 at 4:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Muze ask a new question: "Scalability of inflatable aerodynamic decelerators; what factors limit the practical size?" $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 5:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @uhoh I have to dig but I did see one being built the size of a basket ball court. $\endgroup$
    – Muze
    Commented Sep 30, 2018 at 5:40

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