I was just wondering how hyperspace navigation works if you don't follow the hyperspace beacons. I mean, how does an explorer class vessel explore uncharted space? If you want to find new systems, you can't always follow the "hyperspace road". And what about all those systems that have no jumpgate?
OK, let's have the derivate of lots of thoughts and discussions I had on this... most likely hyperspace exploration works like this though:
The Explorer ship has Really good sensors, to detect hyperspace eddies and tides, and measure them so it can compensate as good as possible and get the best impression of where it's going.
It will also use short hyperspace hops, going back to realspace for course corrections every few lightyears (because hyperspace isn't just a dimension with a different "scale" then ours, it also has "folds" within itself that vary this scale from route to route - so you can never know if the mile you just flew in hyperspace corresponds to one light year or two in real space. And hyperspace isn't static, it has currents and eddies like a three-dimensional body of water; and if you lack a point of reference -like a beacon route- you can never even know how far and in which direction the hyperspace "waves" blew you off your desired course, unless you have Really good sensors - better then just about every younger race we've seen so far).
Eventually it'll arrive at it's destination system, and immidiately set up a beacon, and a jumpgate if neccessary. Once it has done that, the danger of really getting lost is over.
As I understand it, you need a lot of luck and good sensors.
You need good sensors, and a lot of patience
. Luck can substitute for tha latter if you're in a hurry (and desperate), but noone even remotely sane would risk an expensive, jump-drive equipped ship by counting on pure luck (after all, the chances to succeed, or even get back if you do get lost are lower then winning the grand EA lottery!).
So, if you know what you're doing, don't rush your job (and have gotten past the tech period where things broke down with alarming regularity), you don't need luck to survive as an exploration crew (big desasters at exactly the wrong time like with the "Cortez" excepted of course... and as long as you don't try to "explore" a vorlon-claimed system or something similar by mistake).
...and look for the local shifts in Hyperspace that indicate you're coming up on a large mass (ie the star) in real space, you then open a jump point to see if you're right.
Actually no - most races can't get Anything in matters of sensor reading from hyperspace. Not even detect a sun or planet without hyperspace beacon (or other signals sent especially into hyperspace).
Some high-tech races evidently can (Streib, all ancients), but even the minbari don't have that sort of tech yet. So as mentioned above, it's a lot more complicated. Not really difficult, once you get to a certain level, but time consuming - you can't just stay in hyperspace for the trip, you need to make it in "mini-steps", jumping back for course calculations every few lightyears. Nothing for impatient player characters I fear...
BUT - the explorer ships are usually to valuable in their job (jump route exploration) to do in-depth exploration of the systems they discover (and "link" to the beacon network). That job goes (depending on who bought the license from earthforce exploration command) to more or less independent explorers, like Catherine Sakai in her "Skydancer", or to IPX teams like the "Icarus" crew (depending on what the quick scan of the explorer showed - simply geological analysis for mining is one thing, alien artifacts another).
Ok, if you have multiple 360 degree beacons, like todays airtraffic naviagion systems, you could measure your position according to the beacons you receive. But, as i understand it, the hyperspce route beacons have a very tight beam to maximise the signal strength.
Think of it like this:
Every JG has one or several "beacon routes", directional signal connections with another gate. As long as you stay on this "signal highway" you have no problem, if you move off it far enough you loost contact with it and won't be able to find it again in the chaos of Hyperspace (thus the Starfury "bread crumbs" in "A distant Star" and "Thirdspace" - they couldn't see the beacon route anymore, but they could see the 'furies that "led" back to it).
Every JG also has a short-ranged omnidirectional beacon, one that can be used to determine your general position in relation to that jump gate (for example, if you want to use your own jump engine to jump out, say, near the Neptune orbit instead of by the Jumpgate circling Io).
You can't maintain lock on a beacon unless you're either near a beacon route or close enough to the beacon's origin.
Note that some of the older races don't need beacons - all ancients and even the Technomages can navigate hyperspace away from the beacon routes, and "TDitCoS" (which is written by JMS's wife and by his words as canon as any B5 episode) mentions that the gates originally didn't Have becaons before the current younger races added them some 7000 years before out time - clearly the race who established the beacon network didn't need them.