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What are the proposed methods for transferring people from orbiting spacecraft to Mars surface specifically if multiple trips are required. Are there any that don't require a new heat shield for each descent?

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The Shuttle didn't require a new heat shield each time, just refurbishment. As far as I know, SpaceX are working with Mars in mind. Their Dragon seems to be built with such reusability in mind. I haven't found much on this but this article seems to confirm this:

All of SpaceX's initial production will be used for domestic in-house applications including the heat shields of the Dragon spacecraft, and the Falcon 9 second stage, which is designed to return from orbit for recovery and reuse.

Frankly, if there's anyone out there that does it I'd bet on SpaceX.

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  • $\begingroup$ I've been reading a lot about plasma engines that use a magnetic containment field to keep the plasma away from the engine parts that could not withstand the heat. Would it not be feasible to have a magnetic heat shield using superconducting magnets to keep the superheated air away from the spacecraft. $\endgroup$ – Mike Tyler May 11 '15 at 2:43
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeTyler, that sounds like a good question -- go ahead and ask it! Stack Exchange isn't a discussion forum; here we make a new thread for each new question. $\endgroup$ – Joe May 11 '15 at 10:00
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, it's already been discussed here: space.stackexchange.com/questions/6506/… $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove May 11 '15 at 20:51
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According to this article, the PICA-X heat shield on SpaceX's Dragon ablates less than 15% on a single Earth reentry. I assume that Mars's thinner atmosphere and lower gravity (-> lower orbital speed) implies that there would be even less ablation in a Mars entry.

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