Exploration is fairly monotonous. Jump In > Honk/Scoop > Scan > Jump Out. Jump In > Honk/Scoop > Scan > Jump Out. So on and so forth. It lacks any real variety in tasks despite the huge variations available in ships, and with engineering, module set ups available to Commanders to perform tasks. Exploration doesn't have to only be the realms of paper thin ships built exclusively for light weight, it doesn't have to boil down to riding an FSD through space with a scanner. To that end, I have a few suggestions that could be considered for added gameplay in the Q4 update, or further updates in the future, and how these suggestions could give additional variety to exploration ship builds and mechanics.
- Terrain features are coming in the Q4 update, that we already know. Make these terrain features "discoverable" locations under a scan, giving planetary landings more meaning than just pretty sightseeing. For example "Deep Canyons: 2000cr" "Volcano: 5000cr". This would tie in nicely with the upcoming Codex as it would allow Commanders more features to fill out. Given the fragility of current ship builds for exploration, this could make integrity more than a second thought to avoid damage from planetary landings as lightweight builds may be unsuitable for true planetary exploration.
- Probes and sample collection. In the much loved series Star Trek, the Federation are scientists as well as explorers, it would be amazing to bring some more of that unknown thrill and sense of purpose to Elites universe. It would also give a little more excitement to Explorers on their return to the bubble as they may find themselves a target for piracy making shieldless and weaponless exploration builds something of a risk if commanders choose to also collect samples. This could be achieved either through the use of an SRV much like surface prospecting/salvage collection, or via a limpet utilising the new multi use limpet controller. exploration with the added mechanic of sampling unusual materials/features (something similar to the Brain Trees, Guardian relics, and Barnacles comes to mind) would give commanders the incentive to equip cargo rack and carry goods. Not only would this give more profit, it could give depth to the wider galaxy, additional codex information, and again, give variety to exploration builds. Fuel Rats already show us that exploration/long range builds are highly possible while carrying cargo or extra weight.
- Data Piracy. As seen with the new Megaships and the planetary installations, the theft of data isn't something unknown to Elites universe, it's rife across space. Explorers carry millions of credits of data within their ship daily, and it's surprising that it would go unnoticed by more enterprising individuals. Making this data available for theft would give that little bit of risk that Exploration at the moment lacks. This could be done using the new Recon limpets as they're already used to identify information on Megaships, and would give a more varied use for the ships data scanner. This could give incentive to explorers to equip better thrusters and point defence to avoid limpets, and to stay out of range of the pirates data scanner long enough to escape and/or break the scan.