Are any space agencies examining the possibility of a Mars landing without a parachute?

It wasn't clear to me if the use of the HIAD (Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator) would eliminate the need for a parachute, especially for landings at higher elevations.

  • $\begingroup$ It’s hard to beat parachutes. They are almost an optimal solution. They’re light weight, can be stored compactly, add lots of drag, and are reliably deployable. To improve upon any one of these metrics usually sacrifices one or more of the others. $\endgroup$ – Paul Apr 24 '20 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ SpaceX is planning to landing the Starship on Mars without a parachute. $\endgroup$ – Dan Hanson Apr 24 '20 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ @DanHanson that sounds like an answer. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Apr 24 '20 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ Good point! I made it one. $\endgroup$ – Dan Hanson Apr 24 '20 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ I can't remember Wherner von Braun's little booklet "The Mars Expedition" (illustrated by Chesley Bonestell) talking about parachutes. The idea was to use a very-large-winged glider, landing like a plane. Then put the tip in vertical position and take off again. $\endgroup$ – David Tonhofer Apr 25 '20 at 10:29


The SpaceX Starship is designed to land on Mars by aerobraking, then using retro-propulsion to land. After re-fueling, Starship would then be able to take off again and return to Earth. No parachutes in the mix at all.

SpaceX had planned for the first flight in 2022, but that's very unlikely at this point. More likely, the first Mars trip might happen in 2024 or 2026. There's more about that in answers to SpaceX and propulsive landing on Mars — what just happened? (and why?)

  • $\begingroup$ I’m surprised to hear that it makes absolutely no use of parachutes whatsoever. To be sure, the large mass delivered to the surface certainly requires a variety of techniques like retropropulsion and aerobraking. I’m just surprised to hear that parachutes would not be used at all. Wouldn’t that incur an unnecessarily hefty thermal protection system mass penalty? $\endgroup$ – Paul Apr 25 '20 at 5:20
  • $\begingroup$ Elon Musk's goal is to make humanity a multi-planetary species. Part of that goal is to be able to land on pretty much any object in our solar system. Since some of those don't have an atmosphere (e.g. the Moon), they need to be able to land without parachutes anyway, so why waste time, money, and resources developing them? We don't know much about the TPS yet, and the design has changed multiple times. At one stage, Starship would "sweat" methanol through tiny pores in the stainless stell hull, but that was abandoned again. SpaceX are iterating rapidly, and can make even radical design … $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Apr 25 '20 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ It is ambitious (possibly foolish) to expect a single vehicle design to accomplish both atmospheric and non-atmospheric entry/descent/landing. A good engineering principle is to keep the design as simple as possible. Parachutes are simple and should be used whenever applicable. I don’t see how atmospheric landing would be practical without one. $\endgroup$ – Paul Apr 25 '20 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Paul Parachutes do nothing about the thermal protection needs--if you're going fast enough to care about thermal protection you're going too fast for a chute. Mars landings are heat shield -> parachute -> rockets. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Apr 25 '20 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Paul: It's probably close, and there's also reliability to consider. The most reliable component is the one you're able to remove entirely. Parachutes may have a reliability advantage if you lack confidence in propulsive landings (there is a possibility that a botched landing after a parachute descent could still leave a lander able to communicate and do some science), but once you master those, the range of missions where parachutes are optimal is at least greatly reduced. $\endgroup$ – Christopher James Huff Apr 26 '20 at 13:10

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