Dark Matter Searches with the Micro-X Rocket

Project: Research project

Project Details


Experimental observations, studying a variety of cosmological scales with a multitude of detector technologies, converge on a composition of the Universe that is 5% normal matter, 26% dark matter, and 69% dark energy. The nature of these dark components remains elusive, and multiple dark matter candidate particles are being sought in colliders (which try to produce them), direct detection experiments (which look for dark matter interactions in the detector medium) and indirect detection experiments (which look for standard model products from dark matter interactions, annihilation, or decay). Understanding the composition of dark matter is one of the most compelling scientific questions today, one which spans the fields of physics, cosmology, and astronomy.

Micro-X is the first space program to fly X-ray Transition-Edge Sensor (TES) microcalorimeters, opening up sensitivity to new physics from high spectral resolution observations of extended X-ray sources.

The payload's first flight on July 22, 2018 was a success from the payload and instrument point of view; unfortunately a failure of the NSROC-supplied Attitude Control System (ACS) led to no time on target and no science data. NASA has fully funded a re-flight, which is on schedule for August 25, 2019. This four-year proposal seeks funding for:
1) Analysis and publication of the second flight data,
2) Design and implementation of payload modifications to optimize Micro-X for a dark matter flight from White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in late 2021,
3) A subsequent dark matter flight in late 2022, and
4) Data analysis and publications from both flights.

The main scientific goal of this proposal is an indirect search for keV-scale galactic dark matter with unprecedented sensitivity. The instrument will detect a signal from galactic dark matter decay or annihilation, or it will place world-leading limits on multiple dark matter models. Maximizing the instrument's dark matter sensitivity requires modifications that will advance the technology readiness of TES microcalorimeters while enhancing the science capability of the payload.

For the first flight in this proposal, we will adapt the payload to fly without the mirror in a large FOV mode appropriate for dark matter searches and studies of the soft-X-ray background (SXB), and for the second flight in this proposal we will upgrade to a new TES array to further enhance the sensitivity of the dark matter search.

In addition to this compelling science, we will perform the analysis of the observation of the Cas-A supernova remnant from the 2019 flight. As mentioned above, this flight in August 2019 is fully funded, but the data analysis and publication of those results will fall under this grant. This data will be the first scientific data set from a TES-based X-ray microcalorimeter taken in space.
Effective start/end date12/19/1912/18/20


  • NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (80NSSC20K0430)

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