NIAC Award: Gravity Observation and Dark Energy Detection Explorer

Illustration of the proposed mission concept – a tetrahedral constellation of spacecraft carrying atomic drag-free reference sensors is flying in the Solar system through special regions of interest. Differential force measurements are performed among all pairs of spacecraft to detection non-zero trace value of the local field force gradient tensor. A detection of a non-zero trace, and its modulations through space, signifies the existence of new force field of dark energy as a scalar field and shines light on the nature of dark energy. (Credits: Nan Yu)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase II Award
Amount: $500,000

Gravity Observation and Dark Energy Detection Explorer in the Solar System

Nan Yu
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

We propose further develop and mature the mission concept for direct detection of dark energy, the cause of the accelerating expansion of the universe, using the solar system as a laboratory.

Dark energy may be a scalar field in nature. Its interaction with normal matter is assumed to have the gravitational strength on cosmological scales, but must be highly suppressed in the solar system to be consistent with current gravity measurements and observations. Nevertheless, various models of dark energy scalar fields can be probed with specifically designed precision measurement experiments.

In Phase I, we have focused on the science and technology feasibility of such an experiment mission concept. By flying a constellation of long-baseline atom-interferometer gravity gradiometers and measuring the trace of the force field gradient tensor in the solar system, we will be able to isolate the new force field signal from overwhelmingly stronger gravity effects and achieve a direction detection of dark energy.

A confirmed detection would lead to a fundamental shift in our understanding of physics and our universe, stimulating a wide variety of foundational research in cosmology and particle physics.

The mission will also provide rich science data products for dark matter and gravitational wave detection as well as other modified Newtonian gravity analyses, leading to the concept of Gravity Observation and Dark energy Detection Explorer in the Solar System.