Soft landing (aeronautics)

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Space Shuttle Endeavour during soft landing
A SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage landing on Droneship
A SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule splashes down
A Corona Spy Satellite film capsule is caught by a C-119J

A soft landing is any type of aircraft, rocket or spacecraft landing that does not result in significant damage to or destruction of the vehicle or its payload, as opposed to a hard landing. The average vertical speed in a soft landing should be about 2 meters (6.6 ft) per second or less.

A soft landing can be achieved by

  • Parachute—often this is into water.
  • Vertical rocket power using retrorockets, often referred to as VTVL (vertical landing referred to as VTOL, is usually for aircraft landing in a level attitude, rather than rockets) — first achieved on a suborbital trajectory by Bell Rocket Belt and on an orbital trajectory by the Surveyor 1.
  • Horizontal landing, most aircraft and some spacecraft, such as the Space Shuttle, land this way.
  • Being caught in midair, as done with Corona spy satellites and followed by some other form of landing.
  • Reducing landing speed by impact with the body's surface, known as lithobraking.