A Spectacular Journey Seeking Phenomenal Exploits: Delta-v Space Navigation


As the days pass by, science and technology are escalating at breakneck speed, giving a world of wonders that humans never ever even thought of or even imagined centuries ago. This development is evidently an enormous and rather influential one, in which the whole of humankind, one day, would be able to conquer the space, the universe and everything beyond terrestrial matters entirely. In the fictional universe created by Daniel Suarez, Delta-v is an awe-inspiring near-future technological thriller that narrates a mission that could metamorphose the pathway of human civilization, where the writer unfolds the story of a charismatic billionaire and his team of adventurers who launch the first deep space mining operation. Being a former American information technology consultant and most prominently, the author of the New York Times bestseller Daemon, Freedom, Kill Decision, Influx and Change Agent, Daniel Suarez has combined cutting-edge sci-fi with all the components of a great spine-chiller in his most recent novel and the first part of a trilogy; Delta-v, leading to wondrous results concerning technology-driven changes.

Towards a Perilous Target in Space

As the plot of Delta-v reveals, an itinerant cave diver James Tighe receives an invitation from billionaire Nathan Joyce to his private island and becomes a prime candidate for Joyce’s high-risk venture to mine a near-earth asteroid. Joyce’s team consists of twenty-first-century adventurers including soldiers, former astronauts, BASE jumpers and mountain climbers. They ought to rely on each other to survive amidst the dangers of a multi-year expedition as well as the harsh realities of business in space. With the aim of kick-starting an entire off-world economy, the team faces numerous challenges and personal risks throughout their mission. Nevertheless, they are dedicated to making a transformation in humanity from an Earth-bound species to a space-faring one.

The story holds onto the fact that asteroids really are the most cost-effective way to get enough resources to start to build a cislunar economy. The title of the novel itself; Delta-v or Δv is quite remarkable as it puts forward the mathematical symbol for a change in velocity, which is so critical to navigating in space. Thus, principally dealing with the near future effects of asteroid mining and transitioning the space industry from one propped up to something self-sufficient, Daniel Suarez’s spellbinding effort to make science meet fiction in Delta-v is infinitely engrossing.

A New Space Race in Asteroid Mining 

Asteroid mining typically refers to the hypothetical exploitation of materials from asteroids, minor planets and other near-Earth objects. Due to the difficulties of this task including the high cost of spaceflight and unreliable identification of asteroids which are suitable for mining and more extraction challenges, terrestrial mining is considered the only means of raw mineral acquisition used today. The researches done by asteroid sample return research missions, such as the completed Hayabusa and Hayabusa2, provide data that could possibly enable a study of future asteroid mining, although this was not the primary focus of these missions. Besides, asteroid mining has shifted to a more distant long-term goal and some ‘asteroid mining’ companies have pivoted to more general-purpose propulsion technology.

The belief is by 2030, with the help of better rockets than we have today, humans will be able to reach many more asteroids with more massive payloads to deflect them, to study and mine them. While painting a very plausible picture of life on a deep space mission, in Delta-v, Joyce’s team endures the goal of mining the asteroid Ryugu which was explored by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft in 2018-2019.

 Asteroid mining in space
Figure 1: Asteroid mining in space

The Science Behind a Dashing Task

It is obvious that planetary resources and deep space industries aim to help humanity extend its footprint out into the solar system by tapping asteroid resources. As resource depletion on Earth becomes more real, the idea of extracting valuable elements from asteroids and returning them to Earth in order to build solar-power satellites and space habitats is highly controversial. In this regard, an important factor to consider in target selection is orbital economics, in particular the change in velocity (Δv) and travel time to and from the target. More of the extracted native material must be expended as a propellant in higher Δv trajectories, thus less returned as payload.

The spinning-top-shaped asteroid Ryugu, in particular, is a potentially hazardous asteroid of the Apollo group. It measures approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) in diameter. It is also a dark object of the rare spectral type Cb, with qualities of both a C-type and B-type asteroids that have a high abundance of water which is not currently of use for mining. Ryugu comprises of organic carbon, phosphorus and other key ingredients for fertilizers that could enhance the growth of food. There are several steps in mining such a type of asteroid including,

  1. In-space manufacturing (ISM), most probably enabled by biomining
  2. Bringing raw asteroidal material to Earth for use
  3. Processing them on-site to bring back only processed materials and
  4. Transporting the asteroid to a safe orbit around the Moon or Earth or to the ISS
The stages of the Hayabusa2 mission
Figure 2: The stages of mining the asteroid Ryugu which was explored by the Hayabusa2

In situ mining of asteroids involve drilling boreholes and injecting hot fluid/gas and allowing the useful material to react or melt with the solvent and extract the solute. Due to the weak gravitational fields of asteroids, any activities like drilling can cause large disturbances and form dust clouds. Some dome or bubble barrier or by some means of rapid dissipation could avoid this. Moreover, mining operations require special equipment to handle the extractions and however, no techniques for refining ore in zero gravity currently exist.

Docking with an asteroid might be performed using a harpoon-like process, where a projectile would penetrate the surface to serve as an anchor; then an attached cable would be used to winch the vehicle to the surface, if the asteroid is both penetrable and rigid enough for a harpoon to be effective. The extraction techniques used for asteroid mining can be listed as surface mining, shaft mining, heating and Mond process etc.

The process of asteroid mining
Figure 3: The process of asteroid mining

Insights to the Privatization of Space

Delta-v more apparently describes the planet’s need for more resources to support all life on it, specifically marking some differences between this future point and our present. The novel further conveys the belief that the commercial exploration of the solar system by a multi-billionaire entrepreneur and business owner would expand the human economy beyond Earth to address the accumulated debt in our economic system and would be the only assured way to avoid imminent, global economic collapse. This story highly elaborates on the need for people to go up into space and then work together to explore and push back human presence in the solar system. In terms of achieving improvement in economic growth and commerce, irrespective of just sending robots to mine asteroids, having people living and working in space while establishing new industries there, is very crucial.

As the narrative of Delta-v unfolds, the crew of adventurers journeying in their craft spaceship Konstantin is going to operate clandestinely yet boldly until they have proven that Ryugu is harvestable. Currently, many researchers have claimed that ongoing advances in the space industry like mining asteroids for precious minerals that are unavailable or exhausted on Earth and colonizing in space will contribute to benefits including economic growth, environmental protection and provision of energy resources while providing humanity with the protection against existential threats.

The colonization of space
Figure 4: The colonization of space

A Futuristic Literary Work Mingling Science and Real World

As Daniel Suarez suggests, space exploration is not just romance or keeping the human species from having all its eggs in one basket, but it is saving our economies from the day the debt-bubble bursts. Considering the status quo, the subjects of asteroid mining and space habitation that he delves into, have visibly moved several steps closer to becoming a reality with the help of major advances in rocket propulsion and design, astronautics and astrophysics, robotics and spacecraft etc. To build a platform in an economy on which we can stand and operate while we perhaps help fix Earth’s climate and threats to terrestrial life, we need to alleviate overpopulation and resource depletion. In this regard, as also described in the novel, asteroid mining will assist in extracting every resource we need from nitrogen, ammonia, oxygen, iron and nickel to a greater extent.

Besides, the space settlement as a form of human presence in space beyond human spaceflight or operating space outposts evidently highlights the urgency to establish humanity as a multi-planet species, for successfully confronting both natural and man-made catastrophes. As such, even though these tasks will be tremendous risks, they will lead to the long-term survival of human civilization and will provide better solutions for the lack of resources. Therefore, among the rare fictional works that investigate the social and practical themes of conquering cosmic concepts in the space warfare of the distant future, Delta-v is an illuminating realization pertaining to the greatness of scientific and technological advancements.

“What possible evolutionary purpose could a person like me serve? No kids. Focused on my own experiences… This is my purpose. This has always been the purpose of people like us. We blaze trails. We chart oceans. We push back frontiers. Without us, humanity slowly dies.”

Daniel Suarez


  1. Durda, D. D. (2006, summer). The Solar System beckons with resources unimaginable on Earth. Ad Astra, 18(2). https://web.archive.org/web/20170721141759/http://www.nss.org/adastra/volume18/durda.html
  2. Lewin, S. (2019, April 23). Ryugu proves perilous target in asteroid-mining thriller ‘Delta-v’. Space.com. https://www.space.com/delta-v-daniel-suarez-interview.html
  3. Space colonization. (n. d.). National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). https://www.nasa.gov/centers/hq/library/find/bibliographies/space_colonization
  4. Wood, M. (2019, April 24). In the novel ‘Delta-v,’ asteroid mining gets us to move to space. Marketplace. https://www.marketplace.org/2019/04/24/sci-fi-delta-v-daniel-suarez-asteroid-mining-space/

Image Courtesies:

  1. Featured image: https://bit.ly/3bwflqA
  2. Figure 1: https://bit.ly/3HSnOAz
  3. Figure 2: https://bit.ly/3u0RzsX
  4. Figure 3: https://bit.ly/3ynnxCt
  5. Figure 4: https://bit.ly/3us7W2j

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