Elite Dangerous – A New Pilot’s Guide

So, as the festive period draws to a close across the galaxy, 3202 is likely to begin with a lot of new pilots looking to get the best out of their new ships, and wondering where to make a start on their career in the void. As a seasoned navigator of the void, I – CMDR Admiral Viscount Galen Shepard – have prepared the following guidance for new pilots. I hope it serves you well.

Knowing Your HUD

The Heads Up Display (HUD) is the primary interface you will use to control your ship and access its features and functions. The elements displayed on the HUD will change depending on your proximity to certain celestial bodies, stations and landing platforms and other vessels but the key components are outlined below.

Target Information Panel

The target information panel appears in the bottom-left of the HUD and shows information related to your currently selected object. For stations and other stellar objects, it will show your distance from the object, alignment of your craft related to the object and your approach speed. For vessels, information on the pilot, their combat status and any local bounty information is shown.



Target Scan Panel

Next to the target information panel, your ship will show a scan of your selected target. For other vessels, you will see hull and shield strength, in addition to a render of the craft itself.



The Scanner and Compass

These are two of the most vital instruments in your ship. The compass shows your orientation relative to your target: a full contact dead centre indicates the target is directly in front of you, while a hollow contact dead centre means the target is directly behind you. This can help you find your target easily when the scanner is crowded, as can happen in some resource extraction zones and navigation beacons.


The scanner shows all contacts in the space local to your vessel, whether these are other vessels or stellar bodies (only in supercruise).


The triangle in the centre represents your vessel, while the “V” is the field of vision directly ahead of your cockpit. The top half of the ellipse represents everything in front of your vessel, while the bottom half is behind. The whole ellipse itself is the plane of your ship, so contacts with lines coming down are above you, and those with lines coming up are below you. Contacts are rendered on the scanner as follows, assuming you haven’t modified the factory defaults of your ship’s computer:

  • All solid contacts are NPCs
  • All hollow contacts are other human commanders
  • Square contacts have stowed weapons, triangular contacts have weapons deployed
  • A contact with a set of triangular braces around it is your currently selected target

Additionally, targets are colour-coded for your convenience:

  • Green – allied with you
  • Orange – neutral toward you
  • Red – hostile toward you
  • Purple – hostile to a member of your wing, but not directly to you
  • White – non-vessel contact; this includes things like cargo canisters and frameshift wakes

Your Status Panel

Found on the right-hand side, this shows a readout of your ship’s hull integrity, shield strength, fuel and power reserves and other immediately useful pieces of information.


The graphic representing your shield strength will begin to change colour as your shields take damage. Once the shield collapses, your hull will be vulnerable. Shields will recharge over time, however if your hull is damaged you will need to visit a station to arrange for repairs.

SYS, ENG and WEP represent the three main areas of your ship which you can assign and balance power to. I will cover this in more detail later on.

Next you have salient information relating to travel: if you’re exceeding the star port speed limit (more on this later) you will be informed here. Similar warnings will appear if you’re carrying goods which are illegal in the jurisdiction you are currently in, or if you have an active bounty in your current system.

The graphic below this represents your heat signature and is tied into your thermal load (more below). The higher your heat signature the easier you are to detect on scanners from a greater range.

Below this is your fuel reserve. The small bar is reserved for running your ships systems and travel in supercruise. If this empties, it will automatically be refilled from the main reserve tank below, assuming you have enough available fuel. The reserve tank is mainly used for hyperspace jumps. If you have a jump plotted, the amount of fuel to be used will be highlighted in blue.

Finally, the three indicators at the bottom will inform you if you have anything which will prevent activation of your frameshift drive:

  • Mass Locked – your ship is currently too close to a station or stellar body to safely engage the drive. Fly clear of any massive bodies and try again
  • Landing Gear – your ship’s landing gear is currently deployed. This can be raised from the functions panel in the right-hand menu
  • Cargo Scoop – your ship’s cargo scoop is currently deployed. Again, this can be raised from the right-hand menu

Thermal Loading

You will notice that by the scanner there is a percentage gauge. This is your ship’s thermal load and represents the heat capacity of your ship’s components. A value of 100% is the total amount of heat energy that your ship can safely deal with. While your ship will operate if the heat load exceeds 100% its modules will begin to take damage from the heat stress, and you may also damage your hull. Exceed the safe thermal load of your ship by too much and your vessel will explode.

High-energy activities such as charging your frameshift drive, firing large beam weapons or boosting will increase this, as will flying close to stars. You can help to reduce the rate at which heat builds up in your ship by purchasing modules with high heat efficiency: these heat up slower and cool faster, making your vessel more effective in dealing with heat.

Getting Around

Your ship has three main methods of movement, each with their own specific purpose:

  • Sub-light thrusters: used for low-speed manoeuvrers in normal space, such as landing/docking and combat
  • Supercruise: faster-than-light travel within a star system for getting to stations and other locations
  • Hyperspace: for travelling from one star system to another

The distance your ship can travel through hyperspace is determined by the total mass of the vessel itself (including fuel and cargo) and the capability of your frameshift drive: better drives and jump further and/or use more fuel per jump to increase range. You won’t get any benefit to hyperspace range by assigning more power to your engines.

Your speed in supercruise is limited by your proximity to massive bodies: if you’re in totally empty space (I’m looking at you, Alpha Centauri…) you’ll get much more speed from your frameshift drive than if you’re near a planet or a star. Again, assigning power to your engines won’t affect your speed in supercruise.

Your sub-light thruster speed is limited again by the mass of your ship, the quality of your engines and the amount of power assigned to your engines subsystems.

Whether you’re travelling at sub-light speeds or in supercruise, there is a speed gauge to the right of the scanner. The top of this represents setting your velocity to as fast as possible, while the bottom represents a relative stop. You should note that it is impossible to come to a relative stop in supercruise: you will always be travelling at a minimum of 30km/s unless you disengage your drive.


You will notice that there is a blue zone to the left of the main gauge. This represents the range of velocities at which your craft is most manoeuvrable, and this applies to FTL flight as well as sub-light. The position of the zone moves depending on the following:

  • Amount of power assigned to the engines in sub-light speeds
  • Distance from stellar objects for FTL flight

I will cover the use of this blue zone in more detail later on.


If you want to get from one star to another, you’ll need to use hyperspace. A destination can be selected from the navigation panel in the left-hand menu, or you can open the galaxy map from this screen and choose one from there. Note that the galaxy map will allow you to plot a route to a star which is outside the range of a single jump for your craft – you can plot a route to any star within a 1000 lightyear radius of your current position. Also note that some systems require permits to be obtained before you can jump to or through them.


If the star is within the range of a single jump, you can just use the first icon to select it as your target. The right-hand icon (shown red above) becomes available if your target is a planet, and shows the surface map, highlighting known settlements and ports.

The amount of jumps it will take you to reach your destination will depend on the settings you have configured in your galaxy map:


  • Economical Routes – this will plot a series of shorter jumps to conserve fuel
  • Fastest Routes – this will plot longer jumps, using more fuel but taking less time

Once plotted, the galaxy map will show your route:


The line showing the route connects all the star systems you will have to travel through to reach your destination. Note that where the line moves from solid to dashed (as shown above) is the system in which you are predicted to run out of fuel. You will either need a fuel scoop (more on these later) or you will need to stop at an outpost or station on the way to purchase more fuel to complete the journey.


Once you have arrived at your destination system, and your target station is selected, its time to make use of your FTL travel. To get to the target station as fast as possible, I recommend setting your speed to maximum. Note that the targeting reticule around the station shows some salient information:


The name of the station is shown, along with the current distance to the target in light-seconds (one light-second is 300,000Km). Below this is your projected arrival time based on the distance to the target and your current velocity. As shown above, it would take me slightly over 12 minutes to reach the station. This time decreases as your speed increases and you get nearer the station. Once your arrival time is between 6 and 10 seconds, cut your speed to around half way up the blue zone. This will ensure that you can slow down enough to reach the target: if you travel too fast, you’ll have to perform a “loop of shame” to turn around and try the approach again…

Once you are close enough to drop out of supercruise normally (within a distance of 1Mm, or 1000Km) a notification to that effect will appear above the scanner:


Once this notification appears, simply deactivate your frameshift drive to drop to normal space.

Approaching the Station

How you approach the station will determine where you are when you disengage your frameshift drive. If you’re flying to a full-sized star port, you should follow the guidelines below:

  • Approach the station from the planet: the docking port always faces the planet the star port orbits. If you approach from any other angle, you will drop from supercruise out to the side of the station, or even behind it
  • Examine the rotation of the star port when you’re in normal space: all star ports rotate around their axis in an anti-clockwise manner, meaning if the station appears to be turning towards you, the docking bay will be to the right
  • Note your speed and weapons: all star ports have a no-fire zone, within which you will be warned if your weapons are deployed and fined if you discharge them. While in the “no fire” zone, you will also be warned if your speed exceeds 100m/s. While travelling faster than this won’t cause you any problems, if you hit another ship while exceeding this speed, you’ll be fined for dangerous flying
  • Be on the lookout for security: if you have an active or dormant bounty, or if you’re carrying goods which are illegal in the star port you’re trying to dock with, and you get scanned by one of the security service vessels that frequently patrol station space, you may find yourself in receipt of a “warm” welcome… A boiling warm welcome…

If you’re approaching an outpost or platform, it doesn’t matter too much how you get there, as the landing pads are all external, and are all over the installation. It is worth noting that outposts and platforms only have medium-sized landing pads, meaning you can’t land if you’re in a “large” ship like a Type-7, Type-9, Anaconda or Imperial Clipper, for example. Star ports can accommodate all manner of vessels.

Docking / Landing

Once you have arrived at your destination station or port, you will need to request docking clearance before approaching the docking bay or landing pads. Station security take a dim view of anyone not following the correct process, and you could find yourself needing a new ship very quickly if you don’t do things properly.

Firstly, you will need to be within 7.5Km of the station to request clearance. To do this, select the station from the Contacts tab on the left-hand menu and choose “Request Docking”. The station will then advise if clearance is granted, and if so, which landing pad you should use: use of the wrong pad will also result in your destruction by security.



If you don’t have a docking computer, you’ll need to manually enter the docking bay (if you’re at a station), find the landing pad, orient your ship correctly, deploy landing gear and touch down on the pad. This can be a difficult set of manoeuvres for new pilots, but fortunately you can practise as much as you like on one of the tutorial simulations.

Useful Modules

The outfitting service in most star ports will allow you to install a variety of useful modules and equipment in your ship.


Not all stations offer equipment to suit all ships: modules are available if a blue + sign is shown next to the slot in question. You should equip modules according to your need: if you’re trading, you probably don’t need A rated components down the board, especially as D rated components tend to have much less mass, so will allow you to carry more cargo further.

Some modules, such as your power plant and frameshift drive are required, while others are purely optional – including shield generators! I’ll go through some useful ones below.

Collector / Prospector / Fuel Transfer / Hatch Breaker Limpit Controllers

These allow you to program drones to perform various functions:

  • Collector drones will either retrieve one cargo canister (if one is targeted) or fetch all cargo canisters within a certain radius of your ship if you don’t target anything. In either case the drone is used up
  • Prospector drones will analyse the composition of an asteroid and report back on its make-up. This is useful for miners
  • Fuel Transfer drones allow you to transfer 1 tonne of fuel to a targeted ship
  • Hatch Breaker drones will attempt to attach to a targeted ship and break open its cargo hatch, causing it to vent cargo into space. These drones are useful for pirates

Docking Computer

These take the pain out of landing manually. Once you have obtained landing clearance from a port, simply bring your craft to a relative stop and the docking computer will take over and land for you. These are more useful on larger ships than smaller ones. You will still need to be within 7.5Km to request clearance, and you will still need to request clearance manually, however.

Discovery Scanners

These allow you to chart unknown systems. They all work in the same way, and must be assigned to a fire group and charged before they can be used.

  • Basic scanners will reveal all stellar bodies within a 500Ls radius of your craft
  • Intermediate scanners will reveal all stellar bodies within a 1000Ls of your craft
  • Advanced scanners will reveal all stellar bodies within a star system

These are useful if you intend to go exploring, although they can be very expensive additions if you don’t. If you don’t have a discovery scanner of any kind, your ship will not catalogue any unknown stellar bodies you encounter and you won’t get any cartographic data to sell.

Fuel Scoops

These allow you to scoop charged particles from the atmospheres of stars and convert them into fuel for your ship. These are essential for anyone planning to do any long-range exploration, and are nice to have for other pilots. To scoop fuel, simply approach the star (taking care to stay outside the exclusion zone, a yellow circle around the star, visible if orbit lines are displayed) and the scoop will start working on its own.


If you approach within the exclusion zone, your drive will perform a safety cut-out and drop you back to normal space, damaging your vessel. You should also pay attention to your heat capacity: being this close to a star will cause your ship to heat up significantly.

The rate at which you scoop fuel will depend on your proximity (if you’re closer, you’ll scoop more) and the class if your scoop: higher classes of scoop can take in and process more fuel. The number is the Kg/s being scooped.


Various weapons exist for your ship’s mounting points. Broadly these are kinetic or thermal. Kinetic weapons rely on projectiles, while thermal weapons are more traditional lasers. Kinetic weapons are better at damaging a ship’s hull, and produce much less heat than a thermal weapon, however they require ammunition where as thermal weapons do not. I personally favour burst lasers as my weapons of choice, as they do a reasonable amount of damage and strike a good balance between power usage, heat production and damage. If you’re running a trade ship, you may decide to forego any weapons at all in order to reduce the mass of your ship, especially seeing that most trade ships do not make good combat ships.

Most weapons are available in three mount types:

  • Fixed – these have no signature tracking and only fire directly ahead. More useful on smaller, nimbler fighter craft, they boast more damage per strike than their counterparts but require increased skill to aim correctly, especially against smaller and more distant targets. These must be manually fired by the pilot
  • Gimballed – these have limited signature tracking capability and can track targets within a certain field of view. They must be manually fired by the pilot, the same as fixed weapons
  • Turreted – these have full signature tracking capability and can track targets within 360 degrees of their position. They can be manually fired or configured to fire automatically at any hostile targets, or your current target

You will need to experiment with the load-out of your vessel to find what works for you.

Shield Boosters

These fit on a utility mount, and have quite a power draw. However, they increase the strength of your shield quite considerably. The effect of multiple boosters stacks, so having more boosters gives more of an effect. So how do they work? Each booster has a shield multiplier which varies depending on its class. The sum of these multipliers is added to your base shield strength, for example: you have a base shield strength of 400 and two boosters with multipliers of 1.2, your shield will be 140% of the base, or 560. Note that the trade-off for stronger shields is increased recharge time: shield boosters will slow the rate at which your shield regenerates.

Balancing Power

Your ship’s power is distributed between three main areas: SYS, ENG and WEP. These stand for Systems, Engines and Weapons.


The default configuration is to have two “pips” in each area. The speed of charge depends on how many pips are assigned to that area, the amount of power your power plant produces and the capability of your power distribution module. Assigning power has the following effects:

  • SYS – increases the strength of your shield. Two pips is 100% – standard strength. Four pips is ~150%. Additionally, it allows the SYS capacitor to recharge faster, although it has no direct affect on the recharge rate of your shields
  • ENG – increases the maximum speed of your vessel, allows for increased boost speed and increases the rate at which the ENG capacitor recharges. This only affects thrusters, and has no effect on your frameshift drive or while in supercruise
  • WEP – increases the damage output of your weapons and speeds the rate at which the WEP capacitor recharges, allowing you to fire thermal weapons for longer periods.

During normal flight, having two pips in each system is perfectly fine. When entering combat, you’ll need to adjust your power to make sure that you have enough power to keep your shields online, and continue firing your weapons. The example above is from my Python: if I find myself in a situation I need to get out of, its easy to assign power to the engines and boost away while charging your frameshift drive: its better to live and fight another day.

My Asp has a different power configuration again: three pips in systems and engines. This is because it operates at long ranges and is frequently so far out of occupied space that I almost never encounter another ship, so it has no weapons in order to reduce mass. You’ll need to experiment with your load-outs and configurations to find what works for you.

Signal Sources

While flying in supercruise, your ship will highlight various signal sources it detects:

  • Unknown signal sources – this could cover anything from a wreck to a collection of cargo canisters. Security patrols and pirate traps are also common.
  • Strong signal sources – this is usually a wing of ships, sometimes friendly (or at least not hostile) sometimes not so…
  • Weak signal sources – this is usually a collection of cargo canisters or wreckage, or sometimes a single small vessel
  • Distress calls – these are frequently ships that have run out of fuel or are under attack by pirates. Expect combat if you drop into one of these…
  • Salvageable wreckage – a wrecked ship and its cargo, available to anyone wanting to take it. Sometimes the goods are worth it, sometimes not so – its all the luck of the draw


If your ship has a Planetary Approach Suite installed, you will be able to land your ship on a variety of different worlds. The system map will highlight which worlds can be landed on. Worlds with settlements will appear as shown below:


Worlds without any settlements will appear as shown below:


Again, some planets and moons require permits to be obtained before you can land on them.

To land, simply fly your ship towards the planet, noting that if you have orbit lines turned on, you will see the blue exclusion zone, inside which orbital flight will begin:


Once you have approached close enough, a new set of instruments will appear on your HUD:


This shows your angle of descent/ascent and your altitude. OC represents orbital cruise and is the optimum altitude for orbiting the planet. This will vary depending on the size of the body and the gravity it exerts on its local space. DRP represents the altitude at which you drop from orbital cruise to glide mode and normal flight. This is 25km above the surface, and you should be travelling at 2.5Km/s at this point or you will suffer and uncontrolled disengage of the ship’s drive, dropping you to normal space and potentially damaging your ship. If your angle of descent is too steep or too shallow, you may not fully engage glide mode, meaning you may have a long flight on standard thrusters… Once your altitude drops below 2Km, the gauge to the right changes again:


You will be able to land your ship anywhere on the surface where the scanner turns blue to indicate a suitable touch-down site. Landing clearance can be obtained from surface settlements in the same manner as from space-based installations, and the same rules for speeding, landing, weapons-fire and smuggling also apply.

You should take care when landing on planets, as some have gravity so high that if your ship has a high mass and relatively weak thrusters, you may not be able to take off again.

Starting Your Career

So, what should you do first? The choice is yours: personally, I began my career by taking simple shuttle missions from the bulletin board to get enough cash to upgrade from my Sidewinder. Once I was in a Cobra MkIII the galaxy really opened up. That ship is very capable combat-wise and can carry a reasonable load of cargo too. Again, once I had enough money behind me, I purchased a Lakon Type-6 and began trading, doing odd missions where they fitted in with my objectives or they paid well. I continued trading through purchasing a Type-7 and a Type-9, purchasing a Vulture for combat and an Asp Explorer for long-range trips into the black.

If you’re after a steady income, trading is probably the best career path. Exploration requires long trips outside civilised space, once a system is fully charted, has little else to offer. Combat and bounty hunting can be profitable, but you’ll need to make sure you chose your fights carefully – pick the wrong fight and you could find yourself floating home…

Factions and Reputation

Each system has several small factions which post missions on bulletin boards on stations and locations throughout the system. As you complete missions for factions, your reputation with them will increase, and you will find that they will offer you missions with better rates of pay the more they trust you. Some missions will also increase your reputation with the galaxy’s great powers: if you’re after increasing your reputation with the Alliance, Federation or Empire, look for their symbols by missions:


The mission will advise of the effect it will have on your reputation: High, Medium and Low. High missions will increase your reputation by several percentage points, Low missions will only increase your reputation by a percentage point at most. The higher the rank and reputation you hold with the galaxy’s great powers, the better the missions you will be offered. Also note that the great powers of the galaxy will restrict some of their best goods to those of high rank:


You’ll also gain rank for ridding systems of undesirables (pirates and enemy factions) and trading with systems. Its hard work, but hard work pays off: if you’re dedicated to helping the great powers, recognition and reward will follow.


To start trading, have a look at the commodity market. It will tell you (in most cases) where goods are imported from, and exported to. The galaxy map will also show trade data, highlighting the types of commodity which trade between systems. For example, it will tell you that metals exports from one system to another, but not which particular metal to trade: you’ll need to discover this for yourself. There are plenty of third-party databases and tools available which will help you chart good trade routes, such as Roguey’s Trade Helper. Naturally, you’re looking for goods to buy that are below the galactic average in price, and somewhere you can sell them above the average. Its worth noting that the more you run a particular trade route, the more likely it is that you’ll come to the attention of pirates… Several “rare” trade goods also exist – these are in limited quantity and availability and increase in value significantly the further from the source you take them.

Bounty Hunting

There are plenty of pilots out there who take crime as their pay cheque. These pilots inevitably end up with a bounty on their heads. Finding these criminals and killing them is a quick way to earn some money. Nav beacons, resource extraction sites and signal sources are the best locations to find these people.


If you decide a life of crime is for you, head to an anarchy system (no law means you can’t be guilty of anything…) find a trader and attack… If they’re smart they’ll dump their cargo to live another day. If not, you could always use a hatch breaker drone… Once they’ve dumped their goods, simply scoop it up and sell it on the black markets…


You’ll need a ship with a fuel scoop and an advanced discovery scanner to start. A good frameshift drive is also recommended to get range. Then simply head out into the unknown and begin scanning new star systems. Once you have some data, return home and sell it. Exploration data only has value 20+ lightyears away from where it was obtained.

I believe that covers most of the basics you’ll need to get started, but if anyone has any questions or needs any help, please feel free to leave a comment here or message CMDR Galen Shepard in game, and I’ll do my best to help you if I can.

Welcome to galaxy, Commanders!

Kind regards,

CMDR Admiral Viscount Galen Shepard

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