ASTROGATION — Literally, guidance by the stars. In SF terminology this is the space equivalent of navigation, and the astrogator is conventionally one of the most important officers on a spaceship. After a jump through hyperspace, perhaps, it is necessary – although less frequently now than in the Golden Age of SF – for the astrogator to identify several stars, usually through spectroscopy, to confirm the craft’s position by triangulation.
The tasks of navigation are to determine your present location and to plan a safe a reliable route to reach your destination. When it comes to interplanetary or interstellar travel, things get complicated. The route through space is greatly affected by means of propulsion, gravitational potential, hazards (like radiation) and obstacles, and time or distance.
From a human perspective stars are very far away from each other, so science fiction writers usually introduce some plot device to work around the space/time problem. Those include but not limited to stargates, FTL drives, warping, wormholes, hyperspace, relays, etc. Some authors choose sub-FTL methods, like generation ships or colony ships, which employ plot elements like cryosleep or any kind of suspended animation en-route.
Whether done by an organic pilot/navigator or an AI, astrogation and the means of travel are major parts of many SF works (think Navigators in DUNE). It’s usually the basis of the whole fictional world network: economy, warfare, etc.
If you need to get into meaty details about how and what astrogators actually do, here’s a really extensive and fun page to turn to: welcome to astrodeck.
Here’s also a book that might be useful to you, whether in writing or RPG or anything else. I’ve bought a copy some years ago and it’s really something a SF author should have on hands, if writing space adventures and all.
This Astrogator’s Handbook is designed with SF writers in mind. It will give you positions of the stars with respect to one another, so you could plot the routes for your fictional spaceships.
The book shows local space as viewed from the vicinity of Polaris, the North Star, using a 3-D layered mapping system that makes it easy to visualize the positions of the stars in the sky and their relationships to one another.
Included in the handbook are:
• 60 pages of instructions and information concerning astronomy.
• 7 overview star maps showing the 3500 stars in a 150 light-year cube centered on Sol.
• 63 quadrant star maps showing the same stars with detailed information such as name, position, and spectral type.
• 120 pages of tables of supporting data giving additional information on each star.
• Indexes and diagrams that make navigating between the maps and tables effortless and intuitive.
• Designed such that the maps can be removed and combined to show a full 150 x 150 x 25 light-year slice of space at a glance.
The preview of maps found inside the book are available on the official book page.