In the alliances, starship computers have been pre-loaded with a great deal of relevant information regarding navigation and known space. As such, civilian pilots are taught how to locate a beacon, how to initiate the wormhole drive, and how to fly manually using the reactionless drive via the starship computer, but not how to plot a course through the depths of uncharted space. As the old adage goes, 'if you need to ask the price, you can't afford it'.
Unregs on the other hand don't have access to pre-loaded beacon information, and up until the Subjugation of Mankind were likely to be attacked if they got too near to a beaconed sector. Since they were mostly paranoid and resources were scarce, most unregs did what they could to find a small region of space far from any danger and stayed there - The majority of unregs do not travel great distances unless there is great need. As such, while unregs in general have a greater skill in travelling short distances without the use of pre-programmed systems or a beacon network, the majority still do not 'explore' as civilian pilots might think.
However, as time passed and factions arose that gained power, resources and some modicum of stability, expansion became an option for members of these unreg factions. With the ability to roam further from 'home' (without the aid of beacons) it would become easy to lose your way with nothing to track, especially since the majority of unreg communities were housed in free-floating space stations, or with an actively mobile fleet of ships that were not exactly ISC-approved.
So the unregs looked back in history to the old explorers. They would draw maps to chart their way, listing landmarks and distance to allow them to retrace their steps. Many unregs (either intentionally or through luck) ended up using a form of mapping known as large-scale ordnance survey.
In ordnance survey mapping, a location is drawn with corrolary information added in shorthand using a combination of words, symbols and numbers that may need further translation if you are not familiar with the particular style of shorthand used. From heightmaps to the type of environment to the location of specific objects, this kind of mapping is highly detailed.
Starcharts are similar, though of course they require additional extra information to be useful; star movements and orbital paths of planets within the span of the map calculated for a set amount of time, likely nebulae expansion or contraction sizes, gravitational fields, etc. All of this makes a starchart less a simple 'drawing' of space and more a mathematical equation in graphical form that must be 'solved' in order to interpret the three-dimensional environment (including the temporal aspect) that resides on the two-dimensional map.
As there are various disparate factions of unregs, starchart creation is not a unified effort. Each faction is likely to have their own specific shorthand and notation, their own focus on what is important and useful to depict on a chart for their use. Most starcharts focus exclusively on the regions around the area of space these factions control or reside in, but some have traded for information on other locations in space.
The vast majority of starcharts are usually made of paper or a stronger varient. This results in a thick sheaf of said material that can be folded to allow easy storage either in a container or pocket. Some of the more esoteric unreg factions prefer to use thicker material, such as a singular plastic tablet that has information written in various 'levels' on it, allowing the user to interpret the information based on its physical location within the material.
Due to the fact that unregs have little access to the advanced technology of the alliances, children are taught basic navigation via the location of objects in space from a young age. As such, an unreg or member of the Mutuality can simply look out of the window of a space station or starship and if their starchart covers the area of space, eventually work out where they are.
Since civilian pilots of the League, AEU and Fringe have not spent years being forced to navigate by the stars, if they are able to learn the esoteric notation and shorthand for a starchart, they must instead use specialised sensors to gather the necessary data before being able to work out their location.
However, starcharts are still a rare sight in hands outside of the respective faction of unregs within the space charted by them. They are tedious to create, even by merely copying, and the information contained within will often have taken a great deal of effort and time to learn, and most factions will be hesitant to part with even a single chart without a strong level of trust being built as well as some kind of major compensation for the loss of the chart.
For help with making your own temporary starcharts, read the Making Starcharts help file.
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