It was originally designed and tested by NASA for Mars missions. In my case, it does not have to work 100%. Even if it survives for only 1 minute or so, during atmospheric entry - it could add some value to an asteroid mining mission.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ I am looking for a way to decrease the chances of a 100-ton metallic asteroid (piece from it) breaking apart during atmospheric entry. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ @GremlinWranger - good question. I was not thinking about that part. I thought Earth's gravity assist will be sufficient to get on LEO. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ @GremlinWranger - thank you very much. Do you think I will be ridiculed if I bring up the option of using an inflatable heat shield in Earth's atmosphere? Some people tell me that this is a nonstarter, because it was designed for a thinner Mars atmosphere. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:13
  • $\begingroup$ @GremlinWranger - Thank you!!! I am updating my article accordingly. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2023 at 23:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ While I appreciate the accepted answer tick, it is generally a good idea to wait at least 24 hours for people in other timezones to have a look, it may turn out there are newer/better design studies or that I completely malfunctioned the math. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 29, 2023 at 2:20

1 Answer 1


For LEO the answer appears to be a qualified yes.

This design study looks at recovering the 150 kg Vega upper stage using a 4.5 meter diameter system. Scaling for area to get 100 tonnes that looks like a 50 meter radius.

This is notably larger than the 100 tonne space shuttle orbiter with a 23 meter wingspan, due to the larger heat flux that could be tolerated. If a more robust design is possible the area can probably be reduced closer to the 37 by 23 meter shuttle.

Engineering a 50 meter structure that is inflatable is probably not possible but assuming robotic or human assembly presumably already required to load the asteroid into the system a flat pack solution using the same flexible heat shield surface with an assembled supporting structure probably is achievable, possibly also allowing a higher heat loading and therefore smaller dimensions.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.