What are the highly hierarchical deep space mission, those where one thing deploys the next which deploys the next... after leaving cis-lunar space.

An example would be Tianwen-1 where a Mars orbiter deployed a Mars lander which then deployed a Mars rover which then deployed a stand-alone selfie cam.

Ultimate goal is to find out if Tianwen-1 wins as the highest order hierarchical deployment and/or if it was the first third-order hierarchical deployment in deep space.

Answers can be any mission with two or more hierarchical deployments that take place in deep space.

UPDATE - I should have been clearer in the beginning

I've emphasized above that the deployments must happen in deep space; beyond cis-lunar. I also want to emphasize that for a while at least all four Tianwen-1 participants (orbiter, lander, rover, selfie-cam) functioned independently of each other. While linked electronically, one did not "shed" or discard the previous. There were four "generations" alive and active at the same time.

Answers that are more like staging are still welcome, but emphasis should focus on this hierarchy of active craft if possible.

  • $\begingroup$ Since researching one aspect of the question will likely produce the answer for the other aspect at the same time, I think it's better in this case to keep it all in one place rather than break this up into two highly related questions. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 23:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Would something like Apollo CSM deploys Apollo LM deploys LRV deploys astronaut deploys shovel count? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag I'd certainly go along with it! :-) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 10:39
  • $\begingroup$ I think you need to define "deployment" a bit to differentiate it from staging. Something like the "deployer" fulfilling non-trivial operations after releasing the "deployee"? Otherwise I'm going with S-1C deploying S-II deploying S-IVB deploying CSM+LM deploying LM deploying LRV deploying astronaut deploying ALSEP, like @JörgWMittag proposes ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Ludo ya while I did mention "deep space mission" a few times, I've added "after leaving cis-lunar space" in italics to the first sentence to emphasize that only deployment, but I really like the way you point out that all four of Tianwen-1's triple deployment members were functioning independently at the same time (for a period of time at least, not sure if the selfie cam had any solar capability) so I will think about how to update without invalidating JörgWMittag's existing answer. I should have defined this more carefully in the beginning. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 22:29

1 Answer 1


I believe that NASA's Mars 2020 mission beats both:

  • Cruise Stage deploys
  • (aerodynamic) Descent Vehicle ("Aeroshell") deploys
  • (rocket-powered) Descent Stage ("Skycrane") deploys
  • Perseverance deploys
  • Ingenuity

That is four deploys compared to the three you listed, and happened about a month earlier.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Do cruise stage, entry vehicle, and skycrane count? If so there are at least a few 'equivalent' components on the Tianwen mission that aren't mentioned in the question. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 31, 2021 at 14:33
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think these are deployments, but more like staging. The cruise stage, aeroshell and sky crane are discarded after releasing their payload, in contrast to the Tianwen-1 that still functions after releasing the lander. $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag I like your answer very much but seeing Ludo's comment above and here I realize that I should have given "deploy" a more rigorous definition at the beginning. I'm hoping you will be okay with me adding to the question that for a while at least all four participants (orbiter, lander, rover, selfie-cam) functioned independently of each other. While linked electronically, one did not "shed" or discard the previous. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 22:33
  • $\begingroup$ Have a look at the edit, is it okay with you? $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 22:38

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