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Ballute-equipped Mark 82 bombs being dropped by an F-111 attack aircraft
Sketch of ballute components

The ballute (a portmanteau of balloon and parachute) is a parachute-like braking device optimized for use at high altitudes and supersonic velocities. Invented by Goodyear in 1958, the original ballute was a cone-shaped balloon with a toroidal burble fence fitted around its widest point. A burble fence is an inflated structure intended to ensure flow separation.[1] This stabilizes the ballute as it decelerates through different flow regimes (from supersonic to subsonic).

The ballute is inflated either by a gas generator or by air forced into the structure by ram air inlets.

Ballutes have also been proposed in stacked toroidal and tension cone form factors, in addition to the more standard isotensoid ballute.[2]


The ballute has been used as a retarding device for freefall bombs dropped from aircraft.

It was used as part of the escape equipment for the Gemini spacecraft.[3]

It has been proposed for use during aerocapture and aerobraking.[4] In the 1984 film 2010: The Year We Make Contact, a ballute is used on the space vehicle Leonov to shield it from the effects of heating during aerobraking. This allowed the Leonov to slow itself without expending fuel and establish an orbit around Jupiter's moon Io.

Extended designs using inflatable tension cone ballute technology have been proposed for deorbiting NanoSats and recovering low-mass (< 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb)) satellites from low Earth orbit.[2]

Armadillo Aerospace used a ballute in the testing of its STIG-A rocket in early 2012.[5][6]

As of February 2015 Danish nonprofit aerospace organization Copenhagen Suborbitals were testing a ballute for its Nexø rockets.[7]

In April 2018 SpaceX's Elon Musk tweeted "SpaceX will try to bring rocket upper stage back from orbital velocity using a giant party balloon."[8]

In August 2019 Peter Beck of Rocket Lab announced that they would attempt to recover their Electron rocket's lower stage utilizing a ballute for supersonic deceleration.[9]


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  2. ^ a b "NanoSat Deorbit and Recovery System (DRS) to Enable New Missions". conference paper. Small Sat 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-22.
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  5. ^ "Armadillo Launches a STIG-A Rocket - Captures Awesome Image of Ballute". Retrieved 2012-07-17.
  6. ^ "Reentry System—CubeSat Recovery System". Andrews Space. 2008. Archived from the original on 2012-01-01. Retrieved 2011-12-24.
  7. ^ "Warp speed, mr. Zulu!" (in Danish). Ingeniøren. 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2018-04-22.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Can Rocket Lab really catch a rocket with a helicopter?!". Everyday Astronaut. 2019-08-10. Retrieved 2019-10-15.

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