The stations are now fully operational and trips can be flown from port to port, with the support of new flight planning routines and avionics modes. And at last I could remove a quick and dirty trick dating back from 2016: it’s not possible to refuel in deep space anymore!
Here is a video detailing the procedures to plan an approach and fly it to the destination docking port:
The idea behind the process is that ships would be too dangerous close to orbital facilities with their fusion reactor running: the device is fundamentally a very powerful plasma torch!
Therefore the flight planner features a new routine to shift the rendez-vous with the destination by a safe distance, and placing the ship on a “glide” trajectory with a small ΔV at the arrival. The reactor can then be shut down after the last high-power burn and the following approach flown “on battery” (the ship’s superconducting coils) and relying on the maneuvering thrusters only.
Now about relative flight around stations and docking. Full 6 Degrees of Freedom flight is very complex (3 dimensions of rotation + 3 dimensions of translation). To complicate things further the ship is severely under-controlled when running on its maneuvering thrusters (low acceleration) and with a very limited operation time (~ 6 minutes at full thrust). That is manual control is very tricky and thus the ship’s avionics provides all the necessary automated flight modes for translations and docking.
Moreover the flight controller stays clear of the restricted flight regions and obstacles around the facilities, and also compensates for the drift due to differential gravity when not exactly on the station’s center-of-mass orbit. For those interested in feedback control the system features an additional pole for pursuit error compensation.
I still have a few related points I need to work on (a fix needed for refueling primarily) and the next main work item will be the addition of interactive checklists. Then the next planned main features will consist in populating the galaxy in a consistent way (main civilization centers, shipping lanes etc) and then adding NPC traffic.