Exceptional Parachutes

Exceptional Parachutes

Parachutes have been used for space missions for over 60 years. Some of these parachute designs have been pushing the limits of what is technically feasible. This page provides an overview of some exceptional and record-breaking parachutes that have flown for space missions. Parachutes used for aircraft, supply drops, recreational use and similar are not included in this list as these are outside of the scope of chutes.nl.

It is always daring to say that a parachute is the largest or fastest, as there might always be classified, ill-documented or unpublished missions. Nevertheless, the parachutes on this page are, to our knowledge, the record-holders for the categories mentioned here. Therefore, we would like to invite you to contact us if you happened to find a parachute that excels more in its category than the ones listed here.

First parachute used outside of Earth’s atmosphere

The USSR’s Venera-4 probe was the first mission to use a parachute on a different planet, being Venus, in 1967. It is possible that the Venera-3 probe was first to deploy a parachute on Venus, in 1966, however no data was sent back due to a communication failure. These parachutes also experienced one of the most extreme environments possible within Venus’ high pressure, scorching and corrosive atmosphere.

Largest space-project parachute cluster

An enormous cluster of six parachutes was tested for the recovery of the Kistler K-1 rocket’s first stage. Each of these ringsail parachutes measured 47.6 meters in diameter and weighs 150 kg.

Largest space-project parafoil

The X-38 Crew Return Vehicle was a spaceplane that landed using a 43.6 m wide parafoil with a surface area over 600 m². This chute held the record of the largest flown parafoil in the world in 2000. Although more recently there have been flown larger parafoils in the world, the X-38’s parafoil still holds the record of largest parafoil for a space mission.

Largest Mars parachute

Missions to Mars have become increasingly heavier over the years, with the Perseverance rover being the heaviest of them all. A 21.5 m wide disc-gap-band parachute was used to decelerate the rover in the thin Martian atmosphere. The Exomars mission is planned to use multiple parachutes to land on Mars, of which the largest will be 35 m wide.

Lowest operating density 

The Exo-Brake parachute allows small satellites, such as CubeSats, to de-orbit faster by using the few air molecules left in the upper layers of the atmosphere. This near-vacuum environment is rather peculiar for a parachute system, but the parachutes proved to work successfully.

Furthest away from Earth

In  the Huygens probe descended under its parachutes into the atmosphere of Titan, one of Saturn’s largest moons. This marked the furthest deployment of a parachute from Earth, at a distance of about 1208 million kilometres.

Largest space-project parachute

The largest parachutes of space missions are often those that have to recover entire rockets, or parts of them. The largest parachute that was used on a mission, was the Ariane-5 booster main parachute, with a diameter of 48 meters, only slightly larger than the Kistler K-1 main parachutes. Its design was based on a similar parachute that would have decelerated the boosters of the Energiya rocket.

Larger parachutes have been flows as prototypes for missions, such as a 57.79 m wide parachute as part of the Apollo Exploration Series test program, although it didn’t make it to the final design to recovery the Apollo capsules that returned from the Moon.

Largest supersonic parachute

The Low Density Supersonic Decelerator mission tested a 30.5 m wide parachute at supersonic conditions. This was the largest supersonic parachute flown and proved to be invaluable for the understanding of supersonic parachute inflation and behaviour.

Smallest supersonic parachute

Small parachutes can behave quite different from large parachutes and have their own challenges. Although many small-scale parachutes are made for amateur rockets or hobby projects, only few have flown or can fly supersonically. One of the smallest, if not the smallest is the drogue parachute of the Nose Recovery Vehicle (NRV), which was a 0.48 m wide conical ribbon parachute, flown in 1977. In October 2021, the Supersonic Parachute Experiment Aboard REXUS (SPEAR) mission is planned to use an even smaller drogue parachute that measures only 0.35 m in diameter.