A NASA spacecraft has been filled with so much asteroid debris since its capture this week that it is jammed open and precious particles are moving into space, scientists said Friday.
The scientists made the announcement three days after the Osiris-Rex spacecraft briefly touched the asteroid Bennu 200 meters away.
Dante Loretta, the mission’s top scientist, said Tuesday’s mission had collected far more material than expected to return to Earth – in hundreds of villages. The last specimen holder of the robotic arm penetrated the asteroid so deeply and with such force, however, the rocks began to suck and become bound around the leaves of the idiom.
For the long trip home – the team was shaking up early Tuesday to place the sample container in the return capsule as the origin particle continues to escape, and scientists want to reduce the erosion.
“Time is of the essence,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission.
As it moves away from Binnu, a cloud of asteroid particles can be seen orbiting the spacecraft – at least half an ounce (5 to 10 grams) at any given time. According to Loretta, the situation seemed to be stable, once the robot arm stopped moving and the place was locked.
Requirements for the Orissa-Rex – NASA’s first asteroid specimen return mission, totaling more than $ 800m – had at least 2 ounces (60 g) of specimens to return. The carbon-rich substance contains the protected building blocks of our solar system, and could help scientists further understand how the planets were formed and how life originated on Earth.
Launched in 2016, the spacecraft landed in Bennu in 2018. Whatever is on board, it will move around the asteroid in March. Samples will not return to Earth until 2023.
Japan is waiting for its second batch taken from a separate asteroid due to return in December.