A NASA spacecraft is filled with so much asteroid debris Grab this week It’s open and precious particles are moving away into space, scientists said Friday.
The scientists’ news came three days after the Osiris-Rex spacecraft briefly touched down on the asteroid Pennu, 200m away.
The mission’s leading scientist, Dante Loretta, operated on Tuesday and collected more material than expected to return to Earth – hundreds of grams. The sample container at the end of the robot arm penetrated very deep into the asteroid, with such force, however, that the rocks were absorbed and deepened around the edge of the lid.
The team is eager to place the sample container in the return capsule early on Tuesday – much sooner than originally planned – a long trip home. Particles are constantly escaping, and scientists want to minimize the loss.
“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Surbuchen, head of NASA’s scientific missions.
One can see asteroid particles throwing around the spacecraft as it retreats from the pen – at least an ounce (5 to 10 grams) at any one time. According to Loretta, the situation seemed stable, once the robot stopped moving the arm and locked it in place.
Orisis-Rex – NASA’s first asteroid return mission, totaling more than 800 million m – requires at least 2 ounce (60 g) samples to return. The carbon-rich material holds the protective building blocks of our solar system, and will help scientists better understand how the planets formed and how life formed on Earth.
Launched in 2016, the spacecraft arrived in Penn in 2018. Whatever is on board, it will still exit near the asteroid in March. The models will not return to Earth until 2023.
Japan takes samples of its second batch from another asteroid, in December.