The latest Elite: Dangerous newsletter (#39) contains some interesting details about how exploration will function in the full game. It’s described as “many-layered,” because although it’s easy to be the first to discover a system (or many systems) by just zipping about the place, a system is not truly “explored” until it’s scanned.
Scanning the system will “determine what number and sizes of planets are present,” but there’s further work to be done after that if the player wants a full set of data. Elite: Dangerous will make it necessary to travel to at least the vicinity of each planetary body to investigate. Systems are only “partially explored” until every major part (planets and moons) has been scanned.
Both passive and active scans will be possible from orbit, and may reveal “basic planet types, their chemical composition, mineral deposits, surface liquids, interesting anomalies, and even indications of the presence of indigenous life.”
Of course, nothing is entirely safe in the space of Elite: Dangerous and the problem with active scanning is that it effectively puts out a beacon for other players to follow. Scanning can also take time, so that’s exposing yourself to a lot of potential trouble.
The rewards may be worth it, though. Both Empire and Federation will pay good money for exploration data, if you’re the first to get it back to “a civilised planet with a data claim registration facility.” The two main factions don’t share data with one another, so it’s theoretically possible to sell the same information to both – but that could be very bad news if they find out what you’ve been doing.
In more technical-related news, the latest newsletter update mentions that Elite: Dangerous’ team got the game running at 4k resolutions and 60fps. Further to that, SLI support will be coming in Beta 2 “you’ll be able to experience it for yourself, with the appropriate equipment.”