Captured by the spacecraft's SamCam camera, the images show that the sampler head on NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of the asteroid Bennu
Captured by the spacecraft's SamCam camera, the images show that the sampler head on NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is full of rocks and dust collected from the surface of the asteroid BennuIANS/NASA

After touching down on asteroid Bennu, NASAs OSIRIS-REx probe team received images that confirm the spacecraft has collected more than enough material to meet one of its main mission requirements -- acquiring at least 60 grams of the asteroids precious surface material, the US space agency said on Saturday.

In reviewing these images, the OSIRIS-REx team noticed both that the head appeared to be full of asteroid particles, and that some of these particles appeared to be escaping slowly from the sample collector.

The sample collected by the spacecraft will return to Earth in 2023.

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“Bennu continues to surprise us with great science and also throwing a few curveballs,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science at NASA.

“Although we may have to move more quickly to stow the sample, it’s not a bad problem to have. We are so excited to see what appears to be an abundant sample that will inspire science for decades beyond this historic moment,” he said in a statement.

The team believes it has collected a sufficient sample and is on a path to stow the sample as quickly as possible.

To preserve the material, the mission team decided to forego the Sample Mass Measurement activity originally scheduled for Saturday and cancelled a braking burn scheduled for Friday to minimise any acceleration to the spacecraft.

“From here, the OSIRIS-Rex team will focus on stowing the sample in the Sample Return Capsule (SRC), where any loose material will be kept safe during the spacecraft’s journey back to Earth,” NASA informed.

OSIRIS-REx remains in good health, and the mission team is finalising a timeline for sample storage.

“We are working to keep up with our own success here, and my job is to safely return as large a sample of Bennu as possible,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona.

“The loss of mass is of concern to me, so I’m strongly encouraging the team to stow this precious sample as quickly as possible.”

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After over a decade of planning, a NASA spacecraft made history this week after it successfully touched an asteroid.

Bennu offers scientists a window into the early solar system as it was first taking shape billions of years ago and flinging ingredients that could have helped seed life on Earth.