NASA will not know how much material it collected until the sample capsule returns in 2023. The troubleshooting also led mission leaders to forgo any more chances of redoing a collection attempt and instead commit to begin the spacecraft’s return to Earth next March.
“Quite honestly, we could not have performed a better collection experiment,” OSIRIS-REx principle investigator Dante Lauretta told reporters, affirming a hearty sample size.
But with the door lodged open by a rock and the “concerning” images of sample spillage, “we’re almost the victim of our own success here,” he added.
The roughly $800 million, minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, launched in 2016 to grab and return the first U.S. sample of pristine asteroid materials. Japan is the only other country to have accomplished such a feat.
Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago. A sample could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists say. (Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and William Mallard)