Interstellar navigation is a chore performed by computers, being far too complex an operation to be entrusted to crewmembers. However, computers, though precision instruments, lack flexibility and the ability to make on-the-fly decisions. It is to serve this purpose that the highly trained profession of Flight Pilot was created.
Here at Planets.nu, this skill can be simulated by the player through a few tools and a moderate amount of hard work.
The Location is your current position; it is shown on the Starship Interface Pane. If your ship is in orbit around a planet the name of the planet is shown next to the word Location. If your starship is between planets it will instead read "Deep Space", or the name of another starship at that position.
The Waypoint is that point in space to which you are setting a course to travel. The waypoint shows up on the navigation map at the end of a line running from your current location. Waypoints are generally set using a mouse or touchscreen; by the nature of the interface, these are often imprecise.
Because of this, the arrow keys -- whether on the keyboard or appearing as an overlay on a touchscreen -- can be used to finely adjust waypoints. Alternately, the starmap can be zoomed in on a target. At maximum zoom, the starmap will display a web of square sectors, each measuring one Light-Year on a side. These sectors are the finest degree of navigation permissible, or indeed necessary, in the game framework.
Additional waypoints can be set after the first by holding down a [shift] key while selecting a location on the starmap. Arrow keys cannot be used to initially select an additional waypoint, but can be used to fine-tune the destination once it has been established (as described above).
As all positions are stored as integer X, Y coordinate pairs, it's possible that intermediate positions in a multi-turn trip will be up to 1 Light-Year farther than expected from the speed of your starship. This will only happen when the starship's path is other than straight up/down or left/right, since straight lines are always measurable in 1 Light-Year increments.
Additionally, planetary warp wells can generate an obstacle to multiple waypoint navigation; as a vessel's waypoint is not considered to be reached until the end of the movement step, and as the warp well's gravitational effect activates before that point in time, that waypoint may never be reset without intervention.
There are three major purposes to which precise navigational methods can be applied. The first of these is ease of play; if a starship is flying in short waypoint bursts across open space so as to disguise its destination, the use of multiple waypoints can reduce the overall effort from turn to turn required for the starship to complete its journey. In addition, it can be used to set up low-maintenance patrol patterns for starships in low-incident areas; this method, combined with periodic Refuel orders on select starbases, can safeguard an area indefinitely.
Another main use of this is to aid with avoiding or utilizing navigational hazards. Complex courses may be set through star clusters and around debris disks and ion storms in order to avoid damage; alternately, both starship and racial advantages may be employed for such tactics as ion storm surfing or radiation halo evasion.
Finally, advanced combat tactics may be employed using precision navigation. These include ambushes, deep space patrols, manual interceptions, and tow-kills. The possibilities are many, too much so to be exhaustively described here.