The OSIRIS-REx probe is losing precious particles from the asteroid Bennu that were collected earlier this week, the US space agency NASA said in an inserted press conference on Friday.
On Wednesday, after two years of flying, the probe collected a small patch of the bottom of the asteroid Bennu, located 333 million kilometers from Earth.
The spacecraft collected about 400 grams of material, more than NASA expected. The 3.3 meter long gripper arm that collected the samples penetrated the asteroid with such force that stones have become trapped around the lid of the sample container. As a result, small particles of the material now leak out into space.
“We think we are losing a small amount of the material, but that’s more than I would like,” Dante Lauretta, the mission’s chief scientist, said at the press conference. About 5 to 10 grams of material would have already leaked out.
“The good news is that we have a lot of material,” said Lauretta. The main aim now is to secure as much material as possible in a special capsule on board the probe. Only when at least 60 grams of dust has been collected will OSIRIS-REx be given the green light to return home.
The space probe will return to Earth in 2023.