In the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, it doesn't take the fleet long to reach uncharted space, and it takes perhaps less than a year for them to find Kobol.

Even if the Cylon war led to them having their wings clipped, we know from Caprica that space flight was routine before then.

So given that the Colonies appear to have been space-faring for some time, why didn't they explore further out into space?

  • 1
    In BSG reboot, the deep space travel is done by using FTL jumps. It is frequently stated in the series that unknown coordinates are highly dangerous to jump because you might end up in a star or near a black hole. It's not like they haven't explored the near space. They use known coordinates to go to a point but they prefer safe-travelling instead of unstable deep-space travel.
    – burcu
    May 2, 2016 at 12:35

6 Answers 6


"Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space, listen..."

Especially considering how quickly the ships can travel, it is easy to see that if they are trying to escape from something (namely the Cylons), and going in a straight line, you can easily reach an area that hasn't been charted very quickly. Think of it this way; compare the time it would take you to chart (with a reasonable degree of accuracy) the state that you live in, with the time it would take you to make a cross country trip. Space is so big that charting an area is going to take much much more time than crossing that same area.

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    I voted this up. Even with the size of their colonies (they look like hundreds of millions, or even billions of people), interstellar exploration would require resources far beyond what could easily be spent. Within a 20 light year radius, we're talking several hundred visible star systems. Brown dwarfs and even white dwarfs can be hidden until you're close to them. This isn't Lewis and Clark, that's for sure.
    – John O
    Aug 20, 2012 at 21:46
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    More precisely: Assume the distance a ship's sensors can see is roughly constant, and that they explore shells of space at increasing radii. Then volume explored is proportional to distance traveled by exploration ships, but proportional to the cube of the radius of the closest region of as-yet-unexplored space. Aug 21, 2012 at 7:56
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    Tigh mentioned at one point that the universe is a cold and inhospitable place. It's very possible that the colonies did explore outside their system, and found nothing of use or interest. The discovery of habitable worlds is always treated as a major thing, after all. Jun 3, 2014 at 18:20

One thing to take into consideration is FTL is a very dangerous manoeuvre. In the miniseries they seem shocked that it would be even considered as an option. Not to mention that even with FTL the colonial systems can only go so far, and it uses a ton of fuel. The fleet is constantly having to hunt for supplies, losing ships, and having problems due to their means of transport.

Now imagine if there wasn't a fleet of deadly cylons following them and instead there was a fleet of deadly cylon bogeymen "out there". You might not be too inclined to explore too much.

tl;dr the type of travel we see in BSG is uncommon and dangerous pre-cylon invasion, they had fairly strong reasons to stay in "known space".

The script leading up to their first jump:

Adama: Specialist.

Specialist: Sir.

Adama: Bring me our position.

Specialist: Yes, sir.

Tigh: You don't want to do this.

Adama: I know I don't.

Tigh: Because any sane man wouldn't. It's been, what, twenty, twenty-two years?

Adama: We trained for this.

Tigh: Training is one thing, but - if we're off in our calculations by even a few degrees, we could end up in the middle of the sun.

Adama: No choice. Colonel Tigh, please plot a hyperlight jump from our position to the orbit of Ragnar.

Tigh: Yes, sir.

They indicated that they had not done this in twenty-two years, and this is within known colonial space. It is pretty safe to assume they don't go jumping around willy nilly for the sake of exploration.

And as far as non-FTL travel. I again point you to the dangers of the cylons who are out there somewhere.

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    What do you mean by "shocked it would even be considered"? Do you mean in the miniseries when Tighe was concerned about Gaeta's ability to plot the jump? He wasn't so much concerned about FTL there, as the single-jump distance. The further you jump the more accurate your calculations/coordinates need to be, and Adama was asking Gaeta to plot a very long jump. FTL on its own was not terribly scary, as evidenced by the fact that it was installed on even common transport ships, such as the one which became Colonial One.
    – eidylon
    Aug 22, 2012 at 21:00
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    @eidylon: it wouldn't surprise me if jumping was a secondary mode of transport, however. There are no safeguards on it, if there's something where you're jumping to you die a horrible death, and due to the nature of it being, well, a faster than light jump, it's impossible to know what's there before you get there. Not an issue when you're jumping through open space, but a huge issue if you're jumping between heavily populated planets with a lot of space traffic.
    – Phoshi
    Sep 18, 2012 at 14:35
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    I read Tigh's objection as being specific to Galactica, an old ship on the edge of retirement, whose FTL hadn't been activated in 22 years, rather than a general disuse of FTL in Colonial spacefaring. Note that the FTL-equipped civilians in the miniseries don't have any particular worries about doing it, and even young Galactica crewmembers like Cally ("I hate this part!") have experienced FTL. Apr 18, 2013 at 23:12
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    Sorry for the off-topic: regardless of BSG, and assuming jump technology existed IRL, wouldn't blindly jumping be harmless? Space is mostly empty. Wouldn't the probability of jumping into a planet or star be pretty close to zero?
    – Andres F.
    Mar 7, 2014 at 13:18
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    @AndresF.: Depends on your kind of hyperdrive. "Jump" style hyperdrives are typically made less omnipotent by making them difficult to chart with respect to gravity, so you could be exponentially more likely to jump to somewhere with a strong gravity field to a weak one.
    – Phoshi
    Mar 7, 2014 at 15:02

Limitations of Colonial FTL

  • The effectiveness of a Raptor's FTL is limited to brief, short-distance jumps. Raptors require a sequence of short consecutive FTL "hops" to reach the same destination as a Colonial capital ship with a full-sized FTL drive (Miniseries). Colonial FTL systems are prone to breakdown after repetitive use over an extended period of time (33).
  • Colonial FTL systems appear to be a holdover from the Exodus from Kobol, and their current designs have been developed to meet the needs of jumping between the Twelve Colonies, and their outposts in other star systems. Colonial FTL capabilities are generally limited in effective range compared to Cylon FTL. Colonial FTL computers are prone to glitching, often jumping ships to the wrong coordinates (Lay Down Your Burdens, Part I).
  • Navigators must be careful to plan FTL jump paths in order to keep a safe distance from planets or other large objects (Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part I). "Spooling up" a Colonial FTL drive takes at least 20 minutes when the drive has been offline (Crossroads Part II). Because of this, when ships enter dangerous situations, they keep their FTL drives "spun up". Drives cannot be kept spun up indefinitely, as system crashes or serious damage to the drive will occur. A "cooldown" time is required after a jump for new jump calculations, so a ship that has jumped into a new location cannot jump to another location for a brief period of time.
  • Colonial capital ships (at least older ones of the Galactica type) require the flight pods to retract before a jump, prolonging jump prep time. Should the ship jump with extended pods, serious structural damage can occur.


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    While your answer explains very well why they didn't use the FTLs for exploration, it fails to explain why explorers might not just get onto a well stocked ship, pick a direction and put it on cruise control.
    – phantom42
    Aug 21, 2012 at 16:19
  • Actually we don't know that they didn't explore other star system, as bullet #2 points out: "developed to meet the needs of jumping between the Twelve Colonies, and their outposts in other star systems." Though I still doubt they explored much as: "Colonial FTL computers are prone to glitching, often jumping ships to the wrong coordinates" and "Navigators must be careful to plan FTL jump paths in order to keep a safe distance from planets or other large objects" Just picking a direction and put it on cruise control is a recipe for disaster. Aug 21, 2012 at 18:18
  • I don't disagree at all - just pointing out what I see as a deficiency in your answer as a whole. Why didn't they go to the most remote colony and go just a little bit further in the direction away from the rest of the colonies? You've explained why they didn't (or shouldn't) use FTL to do it, but why not regular ships - without the use of FTL?
    – phantom42
    Aug 21, 2012 at 18:43
  • My answer indeed is deficient, because there simply is not enough data to determine the extent of colonial exploration. What my answer did do was outline, based on available data some reasons for why the Colonies might not have explored further. With a fictional series like BSG there simple is not complete answer to this question. Aug 21, 2012 at 18:51
  • -1 for the first point; the limitation of a Raptor's FTL drive is a limitation of the Raptor's onboard computer capability, not the drive itself. When they interface a Raptor with the more advanced computer from a Heavy Raider (Lay Down Your Burdens), it is capable of significantly lengthier jumps and sharing those calculations with other Raptors.
    – T.J.L.
    Aug 5, 2020 at 18:04

You also have to take into account the economic effort to create those spaceships: each new spaceship would cost some money. If each one has a high probability of getting lost for good on a voyage, you would think twice before you decide to start such a quest.

When the Cylons attacked, that possible cost is out of the equation and there's only one way, keep true!

I find parallels to the olden times, when building boats where such a big effort, and when Colón (Christopher Columbus) set sail to find a new way to get to India, they provided him with estimated supplies as if he were going for good. When they returned from their quest, then they could estimate what it would cost, and what would be necessary for the new ships to survive such travel with a high probability of success.


Why explore? The people of the Colonies seem to feel as a Religious certainty that the Universe exists solely with them in mind. There's no one out there to find and they have plenty of habitable real estate.

Of course there IS the 13th Tribe and just maybe ships have gone looking for them but never returned.

BUT... The 12 Colonies have not been completely united for all that long. About 52 years. That's just in time to fight the First Cylon War, do a little bit of a technical backslide. Start to regain their prewar level of tech and promptly get blown away. So they've been spending the better part of 2000 years squabbling amongst each other. In the same amount of time, Rome was founded, rose to a great empire, split, collapsed in the West, continued at Constantinople for another 1000 years and finally what had been the Eastern Roman Empire was completely conquered about 20 years before Columbus sailed for the New World.

Exploration is propelled by a combination of curiosity and like it or not... profit or need to outweigh an investment of Risk. With no advantage in profit or a pressing need and Religion and a bit of a technological backlash outweighing curiosity, no wonder the colonies decided that "Risk was NOT their business."


Perhaps they did and the producers of the series didn't want the complications engendered in the first series from the Galactica fleet traveling around and finding numerous small human colonies. After all, if the Cylons were going to wipe out humanity, then lightly populated and poorly defended colonies would probably have been their initial targets with the core Colonies being the main event.

Also, the re-imagined BSG universe proposes a finite number of human habitable worlds. After several decades of exploring, perhaps the Colonies decided that resources were better spent on the core worlds than on the remote possibility of finding new worlds which could support life. While Kobol seemed to be an idyllic world, New Caprica was a rather hostile planet which barely lent itself to sustaining human life. Searching and finding limited numbers of habitable planets would likely limit the desire to continue such searches.

Finally, the 12 Colonies seemed to be a rather insular society. The major reason for the Cylons success was that its fleets were concentrated in the home systems instead of patrolling in deep space to counter any threat. Had the fleets been dispersed, the Cylon attacks may not have been as successful as there would have been elements to counter them away from the core planets. But again, that would seem to have conflicted with the insularity shown in the series.

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