NASA's Ames Research Center in California is developing a heat shield, dubbed the Adaptive Deployable Entry and Placement Technology or ADEPT shield, which is designed to make it easier for probes to enter the Martian atmosphere. This heat shield makes use of special carbon-fiber cloth and can be folded up much like an umbrella.
Compared to regular plastic shields, the ADEPT heat shield operates well at high altitudes and takes care of deceleration with less heating and forces of only 30 Gs. This means less stress on the probe, and gets rid of the need for a supersonic parachute.
As the human race prepares to explore Mars and as private space travel and space tourism begin to take note, there is a real need for the development of heat shields that are effective yet relatively compact. NASA's ADEPT heat shield fits the bill, and could make space travel a whole lot easier in the near future.