Skip to main content

The Elitist, Part One: How To Make Money In Space

Interstellar Bum

Elite: Dangerous was recently updated with some new features. Brendan takes us on a journey through space in this new series, where he will be exploring faraway stars and getting into trouble with the space police.

My first mistake was packing my cargo hold full of stolen explosives. My second mistake was trying to fly that cargo full of explosives, at high speed and with my engines off, through a tiny opening in a giant space station. By the time I realised my trajectory was all wrong, I had already belly-flopped into the metallic surface of the station, hundreds of metres away from the gateway I had intended to speed through. I exploded on impact. Such is the fate of many pilots who try to emulate the Isinona Manoeuvre.

The Isinona Manoeuvre is best documented here in YouTube form by the pilot it is named after. Basically, in Elite: Dangerous, you will sometimes find yourself with a cargo hold full of stolen goods. And you will sometimes want to get those goods into a station with a strong security presence, to sell them on the black market for (sometimes) major dollar. The problem is you will more than likely be scanned by the station’s customs officials.

Description of custom officials: militant, well-trained, of murderous intent. Holders of advanced pulse weaponry, class 1.

One way to avoid detection is to use the Isinona Manoeuvre. This involves lining your ship up with the port from approximately 10km away, shutting off all your engines, turning off flight assist, and waiting for your ship to go cold. With a low enough heat signature, the NPC customs at the station won’t detect you. Now, the tricky part. You turn on your engines long enough to fire your afterburner so you tumble at full speed towards the gateway, then quickly turn them off again and pray for the following:

i) that you go ‘cold’ again before you reach the 5km mark, where you will be within scanning range.

ii) that you do not go wide of the port’s gateway, by more than a few degrees.

iii) that permission to dock, hastily requested mid-manoeuvre, is granted.

At the last second (and I really mean at the last second) you must flick your engines on and adjust yourself, steering neatly (terrifyingly fast) into the port. Even if you do make it through the tiny gap, you will have to brake as hard and quickly as possible, or you will smash into the back wall of the station’s innards. Of all the things I can tell you about the manoeuvre, this is probably the most important: make sure it is worth trying. Isinona made it look a lot easier than it is.

Explosives, for example, are worth dirt. On the black market I imagine they go for even less. It was stupid of me to even try it. I could also have just travelled to a lawless port and done my shady business there. What’s worse, I did not have the insurance money to buy back my hard-earned Cobra Mk III. It was the dumbest thing I have ever tried in Elite. No surprise I went back to pan-handling for lost gold around Freeport - a station without laws or pesky custom officials. And since Freeport does not police its visitors it didn’t take me long to become rich again. I bought myself a gorgeous Lakon Type-6 Transporter to celebrate the end of my life of petty smuggling.

This was how you make the big money in Elite. Transporting huge quantities of expensive goods and hawking them for extortionate rates. I could make 91,000 credits in a single trip, enough to buy two Eagle fighter craft and have some pocket money left over. I felt I had seen most of what the game had to offer, so I placed my Thrustmaster T Flight Hotas to one side, hung up my headphones and retired from space.

Last week, however, Frontier released their newest version, Beta 2.0, adding exploration mechanics and 500 new systems to the space sim’s sprawling galactic arm. The bloom of new stars, planets and outposts, as well as the addition of a shiny new explorer’s ship - the Asp - has tempted me back to the year 3300. I’m ready to resume my life of grey morals and space voyeurism. Only this time: no mistakes.

(My first mistake was thinking that there would be no mistakes)

On starting up again I found myself destitute. The 400,000+ credits I had saved up were gone and I sat not in the comfortable, glass-surrounded seat of Lakon’s most reliable space-lorry, but the cramped, scuzzy chair of a starter pilot’s Sidewinder. Oh yes, I had forgotten. There had been a character wipe.

Of course there had been a character wipe. This is how Early Access works. If you check the Elite Dangerous forums, you will see the lunatic loyalty of the Elite backer in his or her native habitat. In one thread they were asked how they would feel if there was a server wipe with this latest update. The responses were all positive. The forum was full of people posting smiley emoticons, saying things like: “Do it! Wipe us out!”

I was not so happy, only because I had been driven down to a mere 1000 creds and how was I supposed to buy the shiny new Asp with that? I sat in my Sidewinder and frowned. The ship was resting in Azeban Orbital, one of the new outpost stations, so I felt safe enough to alt-tab out of the game where I could look at Elite’s wiki page on ships -- the equivalent of flipping through a catalogue of new cars while pulled over in a services depot. There she was, the Asp Explorer.

One hundred tonnes of cargo space, 345 metres per second at maximum boost, a 13 light-year jump range, and a steal at --


I closed my catalogue. This was not going to be easy. The most I have ever had in my account at any time was just over a million credits, which I used to buy my beautiful space truck, the Type 6 Transporter. I might have to go back to pan-handling after all.

Pan-handling is when you spiral around space at random, near a station without laws, and investigate any ‘unidentified signals’ you come across. Often these are other ships, sometimes hostile, sometimes not. But every once in a while you will drop out of super cruise (Elite’s mid-range drive mode, faster-than-light but slower-than-interstellar) to discover a cache of containers. It could be one container, or it could be ten. The contents of the crates are things like coltan, explosives or, ugh, bauxite. But what you are really looking for is gold, which goes for approximately 4,500 credits per container on the black market. Patience can be rewarded with mad hawls of 45,000 credits, if you are in a ship with a large enough cargo bay.

I don’t know if anyone else calls it ‘pan-handling’, just like I don’t know if anyone else calls it ‘the Isinona Manoeuvre’ but having made a lucrative career out of flying around, listening to the radio, and scooping up gold wherever it erratically appears, it seemed to me to be a logical comparison. I would find the gold in pockets of space around the rings of a rocky, Independent planet called Anahit. As ever, my heart thought of the containers I found as “salvage”. My cargo monitor read “stolen”. Still, there was a strange satisfaction to my job as a fortune-seeker in the galactic gold rush. Before the beta 2.0 update, I had a proven method of money-making. I had a routine.

Step 1: Drop out of super cruise at an unidentified signal.
Step 2: Assess the containers. If gold: continue. If bauxite: swear blindly and start jump.
Step 3: Approach a container slowly and cautiously to 500m.
Step 4: Check for signs of a trap. Signs of trap include: Three ships falling out of super cruise, messages of hatred broadcast from aforementioned ships, laser fire.
Step 5: Approach to 100m. Repeat Step 4.
Step 6: If not a trap, deploy scoop and collect booty. If a trap, full power to engines, thrust foward, afterburner, steer away from ships, engage jump drive, sweat, pray.

So, I took off from Azeban Orbital in my Startwinder and resolved to go back to pan-handling until I had enough for something a little more exciting. I stopped off in Azeban’s local space station to pick up some courier missions for the ride. Transporting some precious metals to Freeport would get me a tasty 10k, so I took it. Freeport was the station I did most of my pan-handling around, so when I arrived there and dropped off the goods I was in the right neighbourhood. I headed out wearing my gold rush face, ready for an hour or so of sweet, patient trawling.

Results of trawling: Terror, panic, multiple encounters with the pirate known as Vox Despairo, absence of gold or anything of value.

The game’s update seems to include the reduction of valuable loot in that sector of space, or possibly everywhere. The only thing I ran into was the NPC Vox Despairo in his fearfully-equipped Anaconda (the heaviest, meanest, most expensive ship in the game). You can try and negotiate with Vox Despairo if you like, but since he is an NPC I am guessing he will not listen. You could try dumping some cargo to appease him. But I don’t think he will care about cargo. His Anaconda don’t want none.

Time and again this brute would appear when I investigated an unknown signal. Twice, I barely escaped with my life, as a lethal missile homed in on me as I jumped. The second time the missile was only metres away from impact when the drive kicked into gear and I didn’t know until the game’s server lag caught up with itself, whether I had been hit or not.

Making money was going to be a lot harder from now on. I sped away from Anahit and its rings, leaving Mr Despairo free to slaughter some other Klondike Kid. Perhaps this was a good time to check out the game’s new exploration mechanics? I headed for the lawful systems nearby and did some petty delivery boy stuff between I Bootis and the Aulin system. This involved taking some new PCs or something (‘Computer Components’ the game calls them) to the tech-crazy consumers of the Aulin Enterprise. I reach the spaceport and drop off the stuff like a disgruntled DHL employee. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Please sign here.

There are still ‘unknown’ planets, according to the galaxy map, and you can get money for scanning and returning the data to a buyer in a station. I don’t know how much the data is worth yet but I am eager to find out. Every starter Sidewinder comes equipped with a ‘Basic Discovery Scanner’. However, looking around in the undercarriage of Aulin’s docking bay (ie. flicking through the ‘outfitting’ menu) I stumble upon a ‘Detailed Surface Scanner’, which the summary tells me is a more advanced piece of equipment. It’s going for 10,000 credits? Why, that’s just the amount of money I made delivering this parcel of high-spec graphics cards. Sold!

I pick up the device and it replaces my basic scanner. I mark a course for a nearby system that looks to still be unexplored and leave the station with a smile. By the time I reach the uncharted solar system I am brimming with anticipation to use my new gadget. I drop out of super cruise around the ‘unknown’ star and look to my console to use the scanning device.

Nature of scanning device: unresponsive, inoperable, functionally worthless.

It would appear I have made a mistake. Flipping through my ‘catalogue’ I discovered that the Basic Discovery Scanner -- the scanner all new pilots start with -- is the device you really need when arriving in an unknown system. The piece of kit I had was an add-on, not a substitution. To make matters worse, I had seen nowhere that sold the original device, so the only way of getting it back would be to purposefully destroy myself. That may seem counter-intuitive, but in the world of Elite: Dangerous, the starter ship is always free. So selling back the Surface Scanner and killing myself made sense in money terms too. It was the financially responsible option. I dropped off in Bolg, sold the useless Scanner, and went back into space to suffocate myself. I turned to my console where I switched off engines, weapons, shields and finally, the life support system.

“Oxygen depleted in 5:00,” said a message on my screen.

I waited for the clock to tick down. Time went by slowly. Was this the right way to go out? Choking in a tin can in the middle of nowhere? It seemed, now that the timer was on 2 minutes, 45 seconds, to be somewhat wasteful. Why not go out in a blaze of glory? Why not go start a fight with someone? I flicked the engines on, the shields, the life support. Next stop, that unidentified signal source.

I dropped out of supercruise and looked around. My sensors showed three, four, no, five ships. Groups this big are seldom working together. A ship came alongside me and one of them began a scan. It was a Federation security vessel. This was a checkpoint. The cop said I was clean and told me to move along but I was not for moving. There were at least two ships who weren’t security vessels and I wanted to see whether they were worth shooting at. I scanned one of them.

Results of scan: Phil McCaffry, novice pilot, wanted.

Hoooo boy. This is it. I deployed my weapons, lined him up and let loose. In a fraction of a second the scene turned violent and chaotic, as the security men in their Vipers came down against Phil and two of the other ships. My sensors blinked red and yellow. With the pigs on my side, Phil’s accomplices would be too busy to fire on me. Phil’s shields gave way under my pulse lasers. Maybe I would come out of this alive after all. Maybe dying wasn’t the answer!


Suddenly my ship flew out of control, sparking and spinning all over the place. What the hell just happened? A red notice appeared in my info panel.


Ah. One of the pigs had accidentally flown into me and collided, knocking my shields to one-third their normal strength and marking me out as the perpetrator of a purposeful assault. This was not good. The security vessels began to call for back up, thinking they were under attack. I found Phil McCaffry and blasted him, almost as an afterthought, into bits. Then began to turn away from the fight. I had changed my mind! I didn’t want to die anymore!

I fired up full thrusters, and put power back to engines. But it wasn’t enough. My shields wouldn’t recharge, and now both the Feds and the crims were shooting at me. My cockpit began to spark and smoke. The computer’s voice spoke constantly about this failure, that failure. Hull at 65%. Hull at 23%. My screens disappeared. The cockpit went dark, the colour of a car guts. A flash of memory went by, the time I tried the Isinona Manoeuvre.

I exploded.

I would later wake up in a brand new Sidewinder multipurpose spacecraft, free of charge.

Specifications of spacecraft: One cargo bay (four tonnes), two pulse lasers (on loan), one Basic Discovery Scanner.

I looked at my bank balance. About 20,000 credits.

That’s only 6.58 million credits short of an Asp.

Next time: Actual exploration.

This article was funded by the RPS Supporter program.

Read this next