The NASA spacecraft is crammed with so many asteroid debris from the grab this week that it is clogged and valuable particles are moving away into space, scientists said on Friday.
Scientists announced the news three days after the spacecraft named Osiris-Rex briefly touched the asteroid Bennu 200 miles away.
Leading scientist of the mission Dante Laureta said that the operation on Tuesday collected much more than expected for the return to Earth ̵
The team was trying to put the sample container in the return capsule on Tuesday – much earlier than originally planned – for the long trip home. Particles continue to be avoided and scientists want to minimize losses.
“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s scientific missions.
A cloud of asteroid particles could be seen swirling around the spacecraft as it retreated from Bennu – at least half an ounce (5 to 10 grams) at any one time. The situation appears to have stabilized, according to Lauretta, after the robot arm stopped moving and was locked in place.
The requirement for Orisis-Rex – the first mission to return samples from an asteroid to the US, totaling more than $ 800 million – was at least 60 grams of samples to return. Carbon-rich material preserves the preserved building blocks of our solar system and can help scientists better understand how planets formed and how life on Earth came into being.
Launched in 2016, the spacecraft arrived in Bennu in 2018. No matter what is on board, it will still leave the vicinity of the asteroid in March. The samples will return to Earth by 2023.
Japan is expecting its second batch of samples taken from a different asteroid, which should appear in December.