The U.S. space agency said Thursday its OSIRIS-REx spacecraft safely stored samples collected from asteroid Bennu inside a capsule for delivery to Earth in September 2023.
The stowage process was expedited after the U.S. team received images that showed the spacecraft's sample collector captured well over 60 grams of surface material from Bennu following a brief touchdown on the asteroid last week.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration moved to quickly stow the collector when the images revealed some particles were slowly escaping due to the lid of a vessel being jammed partially open.
The spacecraft's robotic arm had placed the collector into the sample return capsule by Tuesday evening and the lid of the capsule was closed by late Wednesday, ensuring that any loose material will be contained within.
The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is on the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth. It aims to obtain between 60 grams and 2 kilograms of sample material.
NASA plans to exchange samples with Japan's space agency, which is expecting material from the asteroid Ryugu collected by its Hayabusa2 explorer, currently en route back to the vicinity of Earth in December.
The Hayabusa2, which is smaller than the OSIRIS-REx craft, aimed to collect 0.1 grams from Ryugu.
Asteroids are remnants from the early formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago, and studying them is expected to provide fresh insights into the formation of the solar system and the origins of life.