Guide / Tutorial DCello's Science Guide to the Galaxy


Welcome everyone, to the most amazing, comprehensive, and user-friendly guide to science to ever graze the Elite forums this side of Alpha Centauri.​

Here in the forum, a lot of members have a real interest in science and the way the universe presented in the game would work. Especially for us older players, the interest for space comes hand in hand with our love of spacesims. However, the depth and complexity of the science involved and the leap necessary to connect present and future is too much for most to handle (and very easy to misunderstand), and after a lot of talks with other members of the ED community I decided to build a simple-yet-comprehensive guide to the science of Elite that would be both accessible and easy to read, as well as not boring. I really hope I have achieved that.

As a theoretical physicist and philosopher of science for nearly 15 years, I’m utterly in love with the universe and all its diversity, and I’ve always been fascinated by fictional universes that manage to build a coherent and rational set of rules and following them. Doctor Who, Star Wars, Star Trek and Stargate have always been my favourite, both in regards to the amount of scientific thought given for the way their worlds works, and seeing David Braben and team talk about the development of Elite I had the impression that they have that same sort of drive capable of creating an believable universe.
As such, I’ve researched every single interview, posts and video I could find when assembling this. Every single fact used in the making of the Guide comes from canon sources, and every physical principle here presented is an actual part of modern day physics and quantum mechanics. I hope that the end result became entertaining and enlightening.

Some may argue that given how far into the future this is and the fictitious nature of the game, such a guide is an exercise in futility. To those, I must only remind you that six thousand years ago people were positing that the Earth was not flat and that people could fly up into the stars, and that your mobile phones and cars and helicopters were once too only a theory with no chance to become real in a lifetime. Yet, here they are now. Being “only” a theory is the first step to becoming reality, and not knowing something for certain is the fuel that drives civilization forward. It’s this thirst for knowledge, this curiosity, this unending journey in search of our boundaries and the power to break them that made humankind reach to the stars, and it’s that same inner fire that will someday spread from this solar system.

So strap yourself to your Cobra’s chair and bring out the thinking helmets. I deeply researched every single newsletter, every single staff post, every single video, every single interview, every single bit of information I could find in order to present you with the most accurate and comprehensive guide for the science behind this game that could be found, all in a manner that don’t require you a degree, an scholarship, or a PhD to understand. Also, there’s penguin jokes. This is:

The Science of Elite!

“If you'd like to know, I can tell you that in your universe you move freely in three dimensions that you call space. You move in a straight line in a fourth, which you call time, and stay rooted to one place in a fifth, which is the first fundamental of probability. After that it gets a bit complicated, and there's all sort of stuff going on in dimensions thirteen to twenty-two that you really wouldn't want to know about. All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it's pretty damn complicated in the first place.”



Chapter 1-
1. Frame Shift Drive (FSD)
1.1 Supercruise
1.2 Hyperdrive

Chapter 2-
2. Ships and Space Stations
2.1 Ships
2.2 Space Stations

3. Equipment

3.1 Shields
3.2 Weapons
3.3 Sensors
3.4 Pilot Suit

-Chapter 3-
4. Extra
4.1 Stars, Fuel, and Fuel Scooping
4.2 Comms
4.3 Sound
4.4 Heat
4.5 Planetary Landings
4.6 Special Relativity, faster-than-light travel, and other points of content

5. Disclaimer

Spoiler buttons are scattered throughout the Guide and they hold in-depth discussions regarding the subject in question. You can safely skip those if you want, but read them all if you want a more fully comprehensive experience.

Chapter I

=Frame Shift Drive=

The Frame Shift Drive is divided into two main parts: the Supercruise drive, which compresses time and space for in-system travel, and the Hyperdrive, which enters Hyperspace for intersystem jumps. At first, I assumed they were both the same thing, with the FSD merely using a different form of compression for the system’s jump and that the interstellar travel was a scaled down version of hypertravel, which would simplify the process and use the same tech as basis.
However, the more I thought about it the less sense it made both in causes and consequences, and over my research, I discovered they were indeed intended to be different. Can’t say that did not disappointed me a bit, because the Hyperdrive has almost zero "real-world" scientific basis and that compromises their commitment to scientific veracity. Still, it’s a game set in the future, so we’ll just ignore that and go right ahead, as if hyperdrive science veracity was a bloodied woman wearing a wedding dress and carrying an axe on the side of a rainy road at night near Manchester.


“The aircar rocketed them at speeds in excess of R17.
R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of travel that is consistent with health, mental wellbeing and not being more than say five minutes late. It is therefore clearly an almost infinitely variable figure according to circumstances, since the first two factors vary not only with speed taken as an absolute, but also with awareness of the third factor. Unless handled with tranquillity this equation can result in considerable stress, ulcers and even death.
R17 is not a fixed velocity, but it is clearly far too fast.”

First things first: the FSD is *not* an Alcubierre Drive.
Supercruise in Elite is more reminiscent of Star Trek’s Warp Speed than Star Wars Hyperspace – that means it works in real space, also known as our particular brand of spacetime continuum. Spacetime is the fabric of reality where time and space interwove, and it’s very different from time and space as two separate things – something that compress time may not compress space if they are dealing with different dimensions (or strings, depending of your favourite theoretical field of quantum physics).

On Supercruise, the FSD drive works by compressing spacetime around the ship in a bubble, shortening distances between two points while the ship moves at a normal speed. That means that your ship in Elite is *not* moving above relativistic speeds -- it is indeed flying just as fast as you do in normal space -- but the compression bubble pulling space around together makes you move much further than you normally do. Think of it as a penguin sliding on ice – the lack of attrition between the ice and the penguin’s belly allows him to move *much* faster than a penguin sliding on snow or a person walking on ground ever could. The FSD uses the same principle – by compressing time and space and removing that “attrition” caused by spacetime and the law of relativity, it allows you to move 10km instead of 10 meters and apparently breaks the speed of light. However, speed was never a factor – you’re moving faster than the speed of light only in regards to observers outside the ship – as far as the universe cares, you’re just a ship on top of a penguin sliding down a very dark ice waterfall. Except that penguin also moves backwards, sideways, and has a deflector shield.

The reason why Supercruise reduces and increases speed (apparently at random), mass locks you, generates escape vectors, and flat out pulls you out when you get too close to a major body is due to the gravitational force exerted by the large mass in spacetime itself, not exactly your ship. That's because both gravitational wells and compression bubbles effectively work by disrupting space, generating conflicting effects when they intersect and making the computer pull you out as a safety measure or simply reducing your overall speed due to a fluctuation in the integrity of your Supercruise bubble. Here, take a look:

That’s what gravity, mass and rotation does to the spacetime continuum. And speaking of rotation, we come to the reason why the Frame Shift Drive is called the *Frame Shift* Drive.

In Newtonian physics (also known as “the physics you learned in school” or “Classical Physics/Mechanics”), gravity is generated by mass. Rotation accelerates an object towards the centre of that mass, therefore creating gravity. However on quantum physics, the effect of gravity in spacetime is affected by much more than just mass and density, and the speed and direction of rotation affects the curvature of spacetime itself. This means that the effect of an object is felt in everything around it, even sometimes slowing light down.

Yes, light is *not* a constant -- the physical constant of the speed of light known as 299,792 kilometers per second is only applicable on vacuum. In fact, light on Earth moves at 299,700km/s (90km/s slower than normal) and goes through glass at only 200,000km/s. By the way, as far as letters go: speed of light = 1c. In the game, the max speed of the FSD in SC is 2001 times the speed of light: 2001c.
The Frame Shift Drive is based on an astrophysical process called Frame-Dragging. Frame in this context does not mean “single image captured by your eyes”, it is the "a basic structure that underlies or supports a system" concept of frame. This “frame” is used in Special Relativity to determine the position of an object in regards to 4 variables: time and 3 coordinates in space and time. The frame-dragging refers to the fact that this frame affects space around it and space affects the frame, in essence dragging each other. This happens because space is elastic, and every particle exchanges energy with it, exerting force – but the catch is, the moment that force is removed, space returns to its original shape and energy state. While frame-dragging usually works only in massive objects big enough to generate a strong gravitational field, the FSD works by generating that same kind of effect artificially by shifting that frame around Spacetime, compressing space and moving it’s particles around by the same principle of frame-dragging. But instead of dragging space around with it and exchanging energy, it shifts energy around the frame, essentially moving things and particles around the ship while the ship itself stays intact. This huge ballet of cosmic energy swinging around is also responsible for sensors picking up ships in SC from far away – the compression bubble greatly increases gravitational effects, and the distortion can be picked up from far away just as easily as a planet’s gravity well.

This frameshifting bubble created by the FSD is what allows the ship to move so fast but also turn direction and reverse speed – the compression field works the same way all around you, shifting space around the ship. This ability to change course mid-flight and even reverse direction is the main indicative of the FSD being a different kind of tech than the ones currently known. For an in-depth look at the differences between the FSD and other superluminal forms of travel found in science fiction, please check the spoiler section below.

As described above, the FSD compresses spacetime via a shift of the ship’s frame. While the effect appears to be the same to a layman (ship moves faster than light), the actual effect in regards to the universe is much more complex.

The Alcubierre drive is a present day theory (which is at least 20 years old) of making a pre-warp drive, and does not work the exact same way a hypothetical warp drive would. It involves the usage of negative mass in order to move a quantity of space that’s in front of the vessel behind it, creating a gap in front of the ship then occupies. The Alcubierre accomplishes this by creating a flat normal space area around the ship and utilizing the negative mass in order to “lower” the space behind the ship and repel it towards the back. This takes a larger amount of time in direct proportion to the length of the travel, and is unleashed at once when the process is finished, bolting the ship forward. The effect of that is the Alcubierre drive creates a “tidal wave” of space and matter behind it and the ship “rides” that wave toward the destination in front of it. The same way the sea pulls the water before a wave crashes into the beach, the Alcubierre drive pulls space in front of the ship and then uses it to push the ship forward. The issue of that is that, elementary, every single particle found in the space in front of the ship is swept along for the ride, and once the ship arrives at the destination and space normalizes, the particles are unleashed forward and obliterate whatever’s ahead of them due to inertia. Newer designs have reduced the transfer of celestial energy by changing the “warp drive” shape and a simple energy shield would be enough to deflect most of the particles out of the way instead of taking them along for the trip in the pre-charging stages. Energy shields which by the way don't exist here right now, but do exist in Elite a thousand years in the future.

The Warp Drive is actually something different all together – it also warps space, but it’s done very differently. It folds space in front of the ship like a towel, bringing two separate points in space closer together. It then generates a warp field that envelopes the ship in a subspace bubble that allows it to cross the empty space between those two points via an alternate part of the spacetime continuum called the subspace. That had the effect of reducing the inertial mass of any object in the warp field and also allowed the ship to accelerate or decelerate inside the subspace tunnel, while at start and end of warp, the ship was mostly stationary.

In both of these forms, it is impossible for a ship to change directions or revert, and they effectively enter a “separate dimension” in regards to real space, being partly cut off from it – the Alcubierre due to the tidal wave, and the Warp Drive due to the subspace tunnel (however, it is possible to re-chart a course mid-warp and recreate the warp field’s distortion, connecting it to the new end of the subspace tunnel). The FSD does not restrict you from doing either, and also keeps the ship grounded (heh) in real time.
Finally, the speed indicator in-game represents your current speed, which is a scalar quantity of distance over time and completely relative in regards to observer and observed. Therefore, it doesn’t mean that your body and molecules are accelerating above the speed of light in regards to realspace around you – it just means the *distance* you’re moving is faster than the speed of light. This again returns to the area of Special Relativity, which can be a bit difficult to understand. Just remember that relativity is the main focus here – what is observer and who is observing is more important than what is observed.

Fun fact: the breaking of the bubble and the reality normalization is what causes the "bang" when you exit Supercruise. It's literally space decompressing and throwing you forward.


“Their minds sang with the ecstatic knowledge that either what they were doing was completely and utterly and totally impossible or that physics had a lot of catching up to do.”

Hyperspace in Elite is based on interdimensional travel, not unlike Star Wars' Hyperspace. It is not an scaled up version of the Supercruise system, since some pretty weird effects appear outside the window and you see a lot of dots that resemble stars flashing by, even if you’re jumping to the only star in that direction – things that would not appear if it used the same compression mechanism behind the FSD. Also, there is no acceleration and deceleration involved, which hints at some sort of absolute state drive.

As mentioned, the Hyperdrive has almost zero "real-world" scientific basis. The only workable theory that fits (and that in present day Earth has absolutely zero chance of becoming reality in the next 500 hundred years unless humans meet an alien race who’s feeling very charitable for Christmas) is the use of an interwoven alternate part of the spacetime continuum similar to subspace, where the laws of relativity do not apply.

The most reasonable explanation for this is in regards to the composition of the dimension itself: Baryonic matter (normal matter in our dimension) can't get above the speed of light, or even reach it. However, the Hilbert space concept in quantum mechanics indicates that quantum spacetime is composed of infinite dimensions, and as such at least one of them is composed of tachyonic matter. Tachyonic matter, contrary to baryonic matter, can move faster than light -- but it cannot move slower than it. As such, baryonic matter can not cross over to Hyperspace, and tachyonic matter can not cross over to realspace, creating in effect a sort of “highway dimension”.

In order to access Hyperspace, the Hyperdrive would need to envelope the craft in a protective shield that could blend with the tachyonic field on the other side at the same time it generates a distortion in spacetime strong enough that allows a connection to be made between both dimensions. The ship then slips into the distortion and is immediately accelerated to many times the speed of light. When it reaches its destination, the craft would need simply to “drop down” from hyperspace in the inverted way it entered it, creating a distortion connecting both dimensions again and deactivating the protective tachyonic bubble, returning immediately to realspace well under relativistic speeds.

That means the system itself has absolutely *no* restrictions regarding "you must drop out at the biggest mass in the system" -- that is done from a purely pragmatic point of view. Travelling at Hyperspeed, it is much easier for your on-board computer to detect the biggest mass in the system on approach and disengage than a smaller body – the also is also valid when plotting a course (we would need an autopilot for pretty much everything in hyperspace. The calculations for hyperspace jumps are just too complicated to be done "on the fly" without disintegrating your ship) and it’s the reason why we must align the ship’s vector before making the jump.
As such, nothing forbids you from scanning other stars in a system (or even planets, really) and making microjumps in their direction. So yes, at the end, the "no jump allowed in-system" is always gonna boil down to a gameplay decision.
Please be aware that along with chat communication, this is the single most fictional entry in the whole Guide. Hyperspace remains for all intents and purposes remarkably and uniquely fictional. While I’ve done the best of my ability to provide a rational and coherent functionality to the mechanic found in gameplay within the constraints of the game lore and developer’ statements, this technology is completely made up.
I can’t stress this enough.

-End of Chapter I-
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Chapter II

=Ships and Space Stations=


Elite ships are pretty much the Cobra. The Sidewinder is a smaller Cobra. The Viper is an elongated Cobra. The Type-n transports are… fat… rectangular… Cobras. Okay, never mind, that analogy derailed quite aggressively.


"Amazing-looking ship though. Looks like a fish, moves like a fish, steers like a cow."

However, what Elite ships really are, is geometrical. They all follow basic 3rd grade designs, and except for the Clipper, most of them use very basic shapes as the backbone of the design. If that’s good or bad is a matter of personal preference and of no importance in a scientific guide, but what does matters is that overall, the geometrical and aerodynamic shapes would indeed help in planetary landings (for more information on that, there’s an Planetary Section at the end of the Guide).

But besides the shape and the “functional” details (heat vanes, hardpoints, doors, etc) Elite ships do not make much sense. Here’s why:

* Space is dark - really dark. All it takes for being completely coated in darkness and damn well invisible is to be away from a star’s light – that is, to be anywhere in the 98% of space that’s pitch black darkness. Ships should have navigational lights. None of them do.

* Any person who ever flew anything can tell you how absurdly important a large field of view is - it's why early planes had no canopy, why modern fighters have a bubble cockpit, and why even the Space Shuttles had 7 view ports: vision is *paramount* when flying. In real aircraft, you can look straight ahead or 90° to either side - that's called a wide field of view, because it gives you full peripheral vision. While some ships in the game do have wide field of views, a lot of them do not. Elite ships in general have a somewhat (totally a scientific term) restrictive cockpit - great for looking forward, reasonable looking sideways, mostly good looking up and a in one instance looking down, and inexistent looking back. In comparison, the Boeing 737 even has an upper viewport, so you can look up. The Space Shuttle has the very dangerous mission of re-entering the atmosphere, and they sacrifice structural integrity to offer a wide field of view for pilots. Even the Millennium Falcon and the X-Wings understand the purpose of large viewports. Granted that some ships fulfil these requirements, but it would be as unfair to not point out it’s failures as it would to not point out its praises.

Radars and instruments are called "aid of navigation". They auxiliate the pilot in flying visual, but they don't replace your senses. Radar signatures can be lost, instruments can lose calibration, and power failures can handle both useless - you *need* to be able to see outside your window while flying.
*Weapons hardpoints aren't optimised. Real world weapons are either always placed in convergence arcs to maximize firepower, or placed in separate sectors so that they can cover whole areas at once – there is not exactly much guidance regarding weapon placement besides "bear as many weapons at an enemy at once as you possibly can". That's the guiding idea from broadsides in the 16th century to F-35's in Die Hard 4 (unless John McClane finds a taxi nearby). Elite’s combat focus is on dogfighting, but a lot of its ships are unable to converge forward facing weapons to one spot. While hardpoints ain't horrible, they aren't exactly good.

That's just some of the reasons why Ship Design in Elite actually could be a lot better, and from a realistic point of view, leave a lot to be desired. However, in regards to their primary purpose as space ships that are spacing in space, they’re great and would get the job done. Scale-wise, there's nothing wrong with them either.

By the way, the reason why I compare real life aviation with Elite ships is precisely because ship designs in Elite aren't spacy, they're aerodynamic. The same way real life aviation works.

Size comparison between the Imperial Panther (left), Sidewinder (centre-left), Eagle (centre-right) and Anaconda (right).
The big thingy in the middle is the Big Ben.

---Space Stations-


Not gonna go too deep in this one, since it is very common sense based and easy to find info about.
Stations in the game rotate at a set velocity to simulate gravity on Earth (also known as 1g). The further from the center of rotation you are, the stronger the g effect it – the closer to the center you are, the weaker it is. Docking area is kept at 0.1g, making landing and take-off easier and also allowing a standard human to lift up a ton of cargo relatively easily.
That’s all.



“Obviously the subject of death was in the air, but more as something to be avoided than harped upon.”

Basically, shields are a mini magnetosphere of charged plasma projected around a ship to protect it from damage. When the shield is active, a volumetric field effect extends out from the surface of the ship and the shield works by attempting to reduce the coherency of any beam attacks and deflect physical objects – energy applied is quickly diffused and re-radiated back into the environment, but the shield itself also absorbs some of the hits. However, the absorbed energy is shunted into the ship’s cooling system in order to be vented by the heat vanes, and as such being hit sometimes tends to increase your heat levels.

One interesting effect is that the shape and composition of the shield can effectively negate the influence of the atmospheric drag faced by normal aircraft. For more on the subject, please refer to the “Planetary Landings” section on the Guide.


"Make it totally clear that this gun has a right end and a wrong end. Make it totally clear to anyone standing at the wrong end that things are going badly for them. This is not a gun for hanging over the fireplace or sticking in the umbrella stand, it is a gun for going out and making people miserable with."

Weapons in Elite come in two varieties: Energy and Kinetic. Energy weapons include the Burst Laser, the Pulse Laser, and the Beam Laser. Kinect includes the Cannon, Multi-Cannon, Railgun, Plasma Accelerator, and the Torpedo/Missile systems. Ironically, the most basic weapon in the game was also the most challenging one to explain.

Lasers in real life do not work like they do in movies. A laser is a device amplifies light via electromagnetic radiation – Laser, in fact, is the name of the projector of the beam, not the beam itself. The light of a laser differs from light from normal sources because its waves do not spread out like normal light does, it stays coherent and focused maintaining the same phase and frequency even through long distances. However, unlike Blasters or Phasers, Elite’s energy guns are actual lasers, and that took a bit of thinking to get right and plausible.

In Star Wars, Blaster bolts are a highly energized gas (made of either overheated plasma or excited energy particles) enveloped in an energy beam.
In Star Trek, Phasers are an electromagnetic beam of energy that when mixed with a protonic charge is converted in a pure particle beam of nadions (which are fictional exotic particles).
Lasers can be generated from a multitude of sources: we have chemical lasers, solid-state lasers, electrolasers, fiber lasers, photonic crystal lasers, semiconductor lasers, dye lasers, free-electron lasers, among many others… lasers. On Earth, chemical and electro are the most used and most powerful, however they wouldn’t work in space: chemicals are highly dangerous and electro lasers need air (they work by ionizing gases until they reach the fourth state of matter – plasma – and then sending a huge electrical current down that). I think the lasers that better fit what’s seen on game are either solid-state or fiber lasers – however, fiber has a very efficient cooling process and cannot reach high intensities without frying the whole system. Therefore, Elite lasers are most likely solid-state lasers.


Kinetic guns are really straight forward and work the same way today’s guns work. The only two differences are the rail gun and the plasma accelerator. The Rail Gun works by magnetically accelerating a projectile at much greater speeds than normally possible, and catapulting it out of the chamber at velocities far exceeding common sense.

The Plasma Accelerator, on the other hand, bridges the gap of energy and kinetic weapons. In essence, a plasma accelerator is actually an energy weapon – it accelerates charged particle via lasers. Given the nature of the electron plasma wave, the kinetic energy transferred on hit would be orders of magnitude greater than a laser (that just heats up and cuts whatever it hits). Most of the components necessary for firing could be supplied via electrical systems and through material modules that would only need to be replaced via maintenance. Due to the energy required in firing such a weapon, there’s a very high chance that the “ammo” this weapon uses is actually a heat sink that dumps the excess power and heat and allows the gun to fire again.

Overall, this is the most hypothetical section of the whole Guide – very few info has been disclosed regarding the idea behind the guns and I had to pull it all from my own experience. As I discover more about the lore idea behind the guns, I will update the Guide accordingly.


"Just because you see something, it doesn't mean to say it's there. And if you don't see something, it doesn't mean to say it's not there. It's only what your senses bring to your attention."

Sensors work by picking up a signature via detection of parameters such as heat, electromagnetic, movement, or a number of other factors. In order to obtain a lock, they are tuned to be able to fully resolve a contact at a specific distance providing the signature is equal to 1. So when a sensor has an effective range of 1 km and a contact is 1 km away, the radar is able to resolve the contact with a signature of 1. If that contact is 4 km away, it would need a signature of 4. But if the contact is just 500 meters away, it would require only a signature of 0.5 to obtain a lock.

However, when a contact is unresolved because it’s signature isn’t high enough, something called “ghosting” happens – the sensor picks up on the remnants of a signature that’s consistent enough to be an object but not concise enough to be identifiable, and therefore marks it tentatively on the radar at its last known position. These are known as “ghosts”.

In Supercruise, all celestial bodies and phenomena within a large distance are enhanced on the HUD elements, showing distances and collision warnings based on the commander’s speed and heading. Other ships travelling at Supercruise within a large distance are also highlighted on the sensors and HUD. For how the sensors can detect craft so far away, please refer to the Supercruise section of this Guide.

---Pilot suit-


From what can be seen by looking down, the body-hugging tight suit worn by pilots is more advanced that today's Stay Puft Marshmallow Man one. It is sensible to imagine that advanced materials can provide the environmental protection from extreme temperature variations and exposure to vacuum and radiation, among other everyday problems faced by space travellers.

However the most interesting thing comes in depressurisation situations (or life support failures), when a protective plastic semi-malleable bubble forms around the pilot's head preserving atmosphere and preventing explosive and cold decompression and blood boiling (yes, blood boils in space). Lore-wise, the bubble helmet is known as a Remlok survival mask, and the functionality of this life saver is augmented via an supposed ability to seal off the suit in events of fabric rupture or amputation.


This section will of course be expanded more if needed once we have more things to do with our clothing.

-End of Chapter II-
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Chapter III


---Stars, Fuel, and Fuel Scooping-


A ship’s power plant is an internal module. It consumes fuel and converts it into energy that is used by powered modules when they are turned on. Being idle or flying in normal space uses fuel, flying in Supercruise uses more fuel, and the Hyperdrive drains even more fuel.

Stars are huge balls of plasma held together by their own gravity. They’re made mainly of hydrogen (with small amounts of helium and iron and other heavier elements) and they are basically composed of three areas: the core (usually a ¾ hydrogen ¼ helium mixture), the photosphere (the part that we actually see glowing and changing and pulsing and shining) and the corona (a sometimes visible field of energy extending many and many millions of kilometres from the star’s surface). Stars shine due to a thermonuclear fusion happening inside its core where the hydrogen is fused into helium, increasing the size of the star and changing the proportion of those elements over billions of years until the moment that there is not enough hydrogen left to sustain a reaction, causing the main sequence of the star to end and starting it’s cooling (and dying) process. Although a lot of things can happen once a star dies, the three more important ones are: 1. it keeps growing and growing (or collapses very fast) and explodes in a supernova; 2. It collapses into itself and creates a black hole or a neutron star; 3. It collapses into itself so fast that it causes the star’s core to reignite and create a new star. If the star does not have enough mass to collapse into itself, it sheds always its outer layers and becomes a white dwarf inside a planetary nebula.

Analysing the list of scoopable stars, we can deduce that fuel scooping works by capturing the ionized hydrogen present in a star’s outer corona. On a secondary note, the reason why we can’t get close to the sun in the game is because the corona itself is over 450 times hotter than the sun’s surface. Fun stuff.
As to why some stars are scoopable or not:

-Scoopable Stars and their colours:

O – Ultraviolet / Bluish-white
B -- Blue / Blue-Whitish
A -- White / White-Bluish
F – Yellow / Whitish-Yellow
G -- Yellow or Orange
K – Orange / White-Orangish
M – Red

View attachment 11560
(table from Wikipedia, thanks Wikipedia)

-Non-Scoopable Stars and why:

Y – Very cool brown dwarfs, with very low emission an almost no corona. They are more reminiscent of a gas giant planet than a star.
T – Methane brown dwarfs with very low emission and no corona, they are also more reminiscent of a gas giant planet than a star.
L – Cool star with a lot of heavy elements, polluting the hydrogen lines.
C - Carbon star with more carbon than oxygen, which creates carbon monoxide on the outer layers and drastically changes it's composition. Also, they look amazingly red.
TTS – Star with a huge molecular cloud around it (usually looking like a ring), they are pre-main sequence stars not yet fully active.
Neutron Star – Not really a star, it’s a stellar remnant.
S – Stars without large quantities of hydrogen lines, instead full of titanium, zirconium and carbon.
W -- Complete lack of hydrogen lines on its corona.

Brown dwarf, picture by RedCorvus

Also, the game considers these two kinds of white dwarfs as non-scoopable:
DA – Full of hydrogen.
DC – More helium than hydrogen.

However, they are both usually warm (and cooling down) and have an ionized corona, in addition to having the elements necessary. Also, there’s not *really* much reason to be in Supercruise mode while using it because the plasma is literally everywhere when in a star’s corona, but technically speaking, moving faster means moving further which *could* mean taking in more particles, filling the tank faster. Game logic.


“One of the problems has to do with the speed of light and the difficulties involved in trying to exceed it. You can't. Nothing travels faster than the speed of light with the possible exception of bad news, which obeys its own special laws.”

Near instantaneous communication between two players that are a galaxy away – along with Hyperdrive – is one of the two things in the game that have no current Earth analogous tech. Unlike Hyperdrive, though, this one at least has theories and a couple of experiments.

The best way to explain this one is to go the same path Star Trek goes – the use of a different dimension of spacetime. Like Hyperspace, a lower dimension that isn’t held back by Special Relativity’s law would allow information to be sent faster than light. In Star Trek, they call this dimension of subspace, and it’s comprised of infinite frequencies. That is all relatively sound as far as quantum physics are concerned.

However, I believe the simplest explanation at the moment for this one is: it’s a game.

So there it is. It’s a game.


Sound exists in space. It just doesn’t usually travel.


Sound is a wave. A wave is a specific frequency of electromagnetic radiation. The reason why space seems – well, sounds – soundless is because the sound waves travel via vibration through molecules in viscous materials (in our case, air) or solid materials or any kind of material actually, and there’s a lack of them in vacuum. However, if the sound waves hit something like a spaceship, sound *would* be heard inside the ship. Basically, what would happen is: any sound coming from something that is attached to the ship or hitting it would be heard – that includes engines, weapons, hits on the hull, among others, but pretty much everything else (ship explosions, etc) would not. In some special cases, you may even hear sound from far away sources if the wave is a special kind of wave and it hits the hull, making it vibrate and transmitting that to the air inside the ship. But most of the time, things far away would look (sound?) silent.

It is actually possible to hear the sound made by planets if you have a special instrument that detects the electromagnetic vibrations.
In the game, I have a nice theory that could explain the presence of all sounds: Your ship computer simulates sounds outside of the cockpit. That would make sense tactically (you can hear people firing at you and locate ships by their engines, for example), and it also makes for great gameplay, so what the hell. As an added bonus that I’m pretty sure even ED didn’t thought of as anything else but “immersion-adding”, the canopy blowing out actually supports that theory: when your canopy blows out, everything mutes as if you are in a vacuum.


Powered modules, including the reactor, generate heat. When a module’s thermal limit is exceeded, the extra heat is transferred from the module to the ship’s cooling system, which then radiates the heat from the ship.
That heat stored a vented by a ship’s cooling system generates a thermal signature for the ship. Although space is full of pockets of energy and temperature spread around, most of it is affected by what we call the Cosmic Background Radiation, or the Microwave Background – an thermal radiation left from the Big Bang that peaks at around 3 ºK (around -270 ºC or -455 ºF). That means that anything above -270 ºC stands out like a sore spot in the face of a photoshopped model, and a ship, running with very hot electrical systems active and with a pilot dolling out 37 ºC, falls into the “sore spot” category. The higher the thermal signature, the easier it is to locate using heat-based sensors and the easier it is to track using heat-tracking weapon platforms. In order to not be detected, it is necessary to lower the thermal signature. Since it’s physically impossible to do away with it completely, you can either jettison it via heat sinks, or stop venting it away.

All flyable ships have articulated heat vanes which can be raised and lowered, significantly increasing heat dissipation from the ship when open. When closing the heat vanes, the cooling system no longer vents the stored heat out into space, and the heat starts to build up inside the ship. Heat transfer still occurs via the ship’s hull and space around it, so the signature is not completely washed away, just lowered drastically. The longer the heat vanes are closed, the hotter the ship gets, and easier it becomes to be detected by scanners. Elementary, the shields need to be powered down while silent running otherwise their absolute energy signature would be as detectable as an Energizer flashlight in a dark, motel room.

Heat sinks are modules consisting of a number of expendable heat sinks. When activated, a heat sink module flushes the cooling system’s heat into a heat sink which is then ejected from the ship.
Regardless of the heat management method, if more heat is being generated than radiated, the heat transfer stops, overheating modules. In extreme cases (like approaching a star’s corona), the heat transfer actually reverses, causing a backflow of thermal energy and damaging the ship. Above 140% heat on a spaceship, the heat can no longer be absorbed by the cooling system and starts damaging the ship systems.

---Planetary Landings-

"The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't."


Planetary landing is actually a tricky subject. On one hand, the shape of a ship does help, but there are much more factors in place. Let's take them one by one.

Wings are certainly out of the question. For example, the wingspan necessary for a fully loaded Type-9 to take off from an Earth-like planet would be 211,6m. In comparison, the Airbus A380's wingspan is 79,7m and the largest airplane in history so far (Antonov An-225) has a wingspan of 88.4m. We also have to consider lift (which is what keeps a plane from stalling and plummeting towards the ground), maximum landing weight (which is usually greater than maximum take-off weight anyway), speed, and etc etc. When we take into account the sheer diversity of atmosphere composition, pressure, humidity, gravity, temperatures, and etc, it is borderline impossible to apply standard aerodynamics.

However, we have a good thing -- actually, two things -- in the future: shields and thrusters. Ship's shields' shape and composition can effectively negate the influence of the atmospheric drag faced by normal aircraft, making them capable of hypersonic speeds in planetary atmospheres. According to some calculations back on my time on the MIT, we posited an oval shaped magnetic shield could allow a ship to reach up to 44 times the speed of sound. Of course, that requires tremendous amounts of energy to generate the necessary exotic particles that would compose such a shield, but in an universe where we can Hyperdrive, that shouldn't be a problem.


The second good thing are thrusters. Elite's ships have a great propulsion system, and given that those thrusters can easily perform VTOL's manoeuvres in atmospheric environments (granted, at only 0.1g at the moment), we can safely assume they are powerful enough to keep a ship aloft in the atmosphere both in landing and take-off procedures.

Honestly, gameplay-wise, these prospects are very interesting -- it basically gives us scientific precedent to have landings that do not take 8 hours to perform from outer space to planetary surface. But since this feature hasn't even been implemented yet and very few information has been divulged, consider this part of the guide as a mere extra and a thesis.

---Special Relativity, faster-than-light travel, and other points of content-

"Anything that happens, happens.

Anything that, in happening, causes something else to happen, causes something else to happen.
Anything that, in happening, causes itself to happen again, happens again.
It doesn't necessarily do it in chronological order, though."

Quick overview of how lightspeed works and an explanation to the many doubts that crop up this subject (along with a few corrections in a lot of misconceptions).
Travelling near relativistic speeds makes time go faster to observers than it does for you. Everything you see looks the same, the difference is that one hour to someone at light speed equals 8 years to someone at normal speed. That happens because relativity involes two concepts called “time dilation” and “length contraction”, in which, respectively, time passes slowly and distances are smaller for someone who is in movement as opposed to someone who isn’t. These things happen because of the ripples caused in time and space by the movement of a body in the fabric of reality, and the greater the speed of the movement, the more noticeable becomes the effect – similar to a penguin swimming beneath water and dragging the surface along with him. Going above the speed of light would never, ever, EVER make you travel in time – time is not a dimension you can move forward or backwards.

The reason why it is actually impossible to travel faster than light according to Einstein's Theory of Relativity – besides the fact that masses increases asymptotically as the object approaches the speed of light, requiring more and more energy to approach it, and thus always remaining below the c threshold – is that it would violate the principle of causality and cause a potential tear in the spacetime continuum (not really, but since Back to the Future, everybody loves to worry about that). Causality means the relation between cause and consequence, in which an observer is able to see the cause happen before the consequence and that leads to something called “Relativity of Simultaneity”, which is a concept that two events happening in two different places at the same time do not happen at the same time for different observers. Example:

Check the “v =” variable at the bottom of the image then read below.

Imagine if three bombs exploded at the exact same time – one in London (A), one in the International Space Station (B), and one on the Moon (C) – and you had three observers: one in London, one on the Moon, and one on a TARDIS. When the bombs exploded, an observer in England (v = -0.5c) would see the bomb in London blow slightly sooner than the one on the ISS and even sooner than the bomb on the Moon, and vice-versa for the observer at the Moon (v = 0.3c). However, the observer at the TARDIS (v = 0c) would see them happen at the same time (because the TARDIS works in proper time, not coordinate time). As you can see, the order of the bombs exploding apparently changes depending on the observer even if the bombs blew up at the exact same time.


But things get complicated when something goes above the speed of light. If a missile left Hong Kong flying faster than the speed of light and hit Tokyo, people in Tokyo would explode before they even saw the missile be launched in Honk Kong. Since they are connected by causality (cause = missile, consequence = explosion) an observer in Tokyo would’ve perceived the missile as breaking the law of causality, as the consequence would’ve happened before the cause. According to Einstein’s Special Relativity, every physics law must look the same to all observers (including all inertial systems and the speed of light in a vacuum), and that is therefore impossible.

-End of Chapter III-

"The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate."

Currently I’m a Theoretical Particle Physics & Cosmology Researcher. I’m a Doctor with a PhD in Astrophysics and Aerospace Engineering (and a Masters in Archaeology because it sounded fun when I was younger). For elementary reasons, I can’t and won’t divulge my real name or place of work in a public forum. I also hold a PPL (Private Pilot License) in the UK and States, and am rather good at playing the violin.

Special thanks to winter bunny Anikaiful for helping me make sure the Guide was understandable at all times and not boring, and for acting as buffer while I struggled with the forum.

All quotes are property of Douglas Adams and his marvellous and brilliant series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Some images are from Wikipedia. Some images are from Google Images.

Elite images are property of Frontier Developments.

This guide may be edited as new information comes to light, gameplay mechanics change or new things are added.

That’s all, folks! Hope it was a good read.
Post any doubts, comments or suggestions below, or contact me via PM. :rolleyes:

If you liked the Guide, please comment so we can give more people the chance to read it! Thank you!

All the best!
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Excellent guide DCello! Well done!

Did you consider the speed of light in the Elite universe being infinite as a way to get around those pesky things like comms, faster-than-light travel, causality and the doppler effect?

Is there a reason that c = infinity wouldn't allow a universe that works how we see it in Elite?
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After 3 and a half hours of intense formatting, editing, and image attachment wrestling, the Guide is complete! :D
(this version, for now, at least)

I recommend that everyone who read it or skimmed through to skim through it once more (and for those who didn't to do it!). I believe it is much more handsome now, way easier to read and to navigate. As always, comments are appreciated.

Excellent guide DCello! Well done!

Did you consider the speed of light in the Elite universe being infinite as a way to get around those pesky things like comms, faster-than-light travel, causality and the doppler effect?

Is there a reason that c = infinity wouldn't allow a universe that works how we see it in Elite?
Thank you. :)

I considered it for the briefest of times, but quickly discarded it as that would defeat the purpose of doing a "realistic" guide -- as the game is based on our real galaxy, I had to work within our dimension's constraints.
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Well what a pleasant suprise! There I was unable to sleep, so I thought I would browse some forums, and I stumbled upon this post.

This guide has to be the most interesting, entertaining and well written piece of work that I have read in a very long while.

Absolutely fantastic, well done sir. If only it could me made a sticky or put on a website somewhere so it does not get lost in the forum, so many others may enjoy reading it.

Thank you for taking the time to write this, brilliant stuff !
Well what a pleasant suprise! There I was unable to sleep, so I thought I would browse some forums, and I stumbled upon this post.

This guide has to be the most interesting, entertaining and well written piece of work that I have read in a very long while.

Absolutely fantastic, well done sir. If only it could me made a sticky or put on a website somewhere so it does not get lost in the forum, so many others may enjoy reading it.

Thank you for taking the time to write this, brilliant stuff !
Oh, stop it, you would make me blush if I was capable of such a thing! :rolleyes:

Great work!

Wish this sort of info was included in the official documentation. Would help a lot of people I think.
Excellent stuff, thank you for the time and effort put into this.
Thank you!

Can we have it as PDF?

+1 rep
I'll think about it ^^ might take some time to get ready, though.
From one physicist to another, I tip my hat to you. This is a good write up. I could disagree with some things but that was all in the speculation parts anyhow.

Some of the "physics" answers I see on this forum really make my stomach turn sometimes. So much so that I've given up correcting anyone anymore. This kind of thing is much needed here, thank you!

I'm most interested in what you say about shields and atmosphere. What exactly about a magnetic shield negates friction? I'd imagined that the interaction of the shield and environment would transfer the force of friction to the drive producing the shield and therefore to the forward motion of the vessel.
Nice read.

One thing, you're quoting wing span in terms of area, do you mean span or area? (I suspect span, because the areas quoted would be fairly small wings, and way to small to lift the aircraft mentioned.)
From one physicist to another, I tip my hat to you. This is a good write up. I could disagree with some things but that was all in the speculation parts anyhow.

Some of the "physics" answers I see on this forum really make my stomach turn sometimes. So much so that I've given up correcting anyone anymore. This kind of thing is much needed here, thank you!

I'm most interested in what you say about shields and atmosphere. What exactly about a magnetic shield negates friction? I'd imagined that the interaction of the shield and environment would transfer the force of friction to the drive producing the shield and therefore to the forward motion of the vessel.

Thank you! Nice to know there's another of us around here. Please feel free to point out anything you disagree with, the truth should never be kept under the constraints of the ego. If you prefer, we can talk via PM.

About the shield, it was actually less about transferring the force of friction and more about nullifying it. The main issue with current atmospheric top speeds is producing a body that can both generate a reasonable form and induced drag while reducing skin friction. Even if we manage to achieve a somewhat ideal ration, we have no material capable of handling the sheer stress and the propulsion systems' high Reynold numbers, and some planforms effectively destroy the gentle stall we need for aircrafts today.

During a late evening one night, me and a group of friends along with a recently bought whiteboard decided to tackle how a futuristic aircraft could handle atmospheric flight in a manner that could both support it's weight while making it mindbogglingly fast, in line with the TIE Fighters and other sci-fi ships that should have no business being aloft -- let alone in one piece -- by today's aerospace engineering.

What we came up with was: regardless of the shape of the ship, it would be able to not fall off the sky as long as it had a strong enough propulsion system. In order to combat the drag and material stress, it would need to generate an oval magnetic shield composed of either photonic molecules or plasma around the ship in order to reduce drag and skin friction, keeping them balanced at the transition point of the boundary layer. The magnetic field would continuously rotate around the ship (similarly to an eddy current), circumventing Earnshaw's theorem and keeping the shield intact, at the same time it's form would keep parasitic drag at manageable levels and it's composition would spare the ship from the damage taken by atmospheric resistance. In addition, elongating the shield's geometry forwards as the ship' speed increases would both be one more factor keeping the particle' stationary equilibrium from collapsing (which *could* allow some sort of magnetic levitation device on the ship, although this was a Hail Mary) as well as limiting wave drag by always matching a Sears–Haack body at transonic speeds.

It was a very late evening. :)

Nice read.

One thing, you're quoting wing span in terms of area, do you mean span or area? (I suspect span, because the areas quoted would be fairly small wings, and way to small to lift the aircraft mentioned.)

I just realized Word replaced m with m². Yes, I was talking about the wingspan.

You can add the Class C stars (Carbon stars) to the non-scoopable list.

Are they in the game? I must have missed them, gonna check it out then add'em. Thanks :)
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