I survived Elite's most gruelling (and boring) rite of passage

Hutton Orbital is perhaps the most notorious space station in all of Elite Dangerous. Located in Alpha Centauri—just down the road from our own solar system—this modest little outpost is almost 7 million light seconds from the system's hyperspace jump arrival point. This means that, even travelling in supercruise, it can take over an hour of continuous flying to reach it.

Some players discover this the hard way. They accept a mission in a nearby system to ferry cargo to Hutton Orbital, blissfully unaware of the sheer distance they have to cover to make the delivery. They point their ship towards the station and wonder why, after twenty minutes, or even longer, they don't seem to be getting any closer to their destination. This happened to me when I was a rookie pilot, yet here I am, years later, flying there purely by choice.

The long haul to Hutton Orbital has become something of a rite of passage for Elite players—and one developer Frontier has acknowledged with the Hutton Mug, a rare commodity that can only be bought at the station. So last night I decided to make the gruelling journey to this backwater outpost myself—partly for the novelty of having endured it, but mostly for the mug. I like mugs.

It doesn't look that far on the system map.

It's not a particularly difficult challenge. You just point your ship at the station, engage the throttle, and occasionally adjust your heading—and not even that often. But it is deeply boring; a test of patience rather than skill. But I don't think that'll be a problem for me, because I'm a Euro Truck Simulator 2 veteran. Driving in one direction for long periods of time is actually fun to me—and in Elite I don't even have to worry about traffic or changing gears.

That's not to say the trip is completely danger free. As someone who always flies in open, a mode where it's possible to run into other humans, I'm a little worried about some griefer camped out at Hutton waiting to blow me to pieces the moment I arrive. I've also heard of players running out of fuel and getting stranded in deep space, but I don't think that should be a problem in my Asp.

And so I fly to Alpha Centauri, line my ship up with Hutton Orbital, and begin the dreaded journey. The station is 6,784,404 light seconds, or 0.22 light years, from the system's jump point. A couple of thousand light seconds feels like a lot to me when I'm running trade routes in Elite, so I'm instantly daunted by the distance. But hey, this is the perfect opportunity to catch up on some podcasts.

Get used to this view, it's all you'll see for over an hour.

Twenty minutes pass and, yes, this is really dull. I keep zoning out, but it doesn't really matter because, so far, I haven't even had to nudge my Asp to keep it pointed at the station. But there is something quite pleasant about being in the lonely depths of space. Usually when I'm in supercruise there are other ships buzzing around me like flies, but out here there's nothing.

Ten more minutes pass. Then another ten. I start questioning why I'm even doing this in the first place. Is this really a good use of the only life I'll ever have? Eden, the planet Hutton orbits, is still a miniscule glowing speck in the distance. Ten more minutes. Then another. At least in Euro Truck Simulator you have to occasionally brake or indicate or merge into another lane: here it's just watching and waiting, listening to the rumble of your engines, watching stellar dust streak past your windows. It's pretty chill, but not exactly entertaining.

It's an hour before I start to feel like I've actually made any progress. Eden is much more visible now, as is Proxima Centauri, the star it orbits. And my ship occasionally drifts now, which gives me something to do other than stare at the stars. Then, finally, I approach the station, slow down, and drop out of supercruise. It's taken me 1 hour and 33 minutes to reach Hutton Orbital, and I'm genuinely thrilled to see this backwater dump floating in the void.

The moment I finally reached Hutton Orbital.

There are no other players around, sadly. I was hoping to say hello to a fellow pilgrim. I dock at the station and fill my hold with Centauri Mega Gin, another rare commodity, and yes, the fabled Hutton Mug. I take a selfie next to the station, because that's what everyone who comes here does, and I notice that my Asp's paintwork has worn off at the front. That's what spending over an hour in supercruise will do to you, I guess. I decide not to repair the damage, leaving the scuffs and scrapes there as a sort of badge of honour.

I feel slightly hollow as I jump back to my home system. Reaching Hutton Orbital wasn't quite as satisfying as I thought it would be. If it was a little more difficult I might feel more fulfilled. But all I've really done here is manage to not fall asleep for an hour—which I suppose is a kind of achievement when there's nothing to look at except a starry void. I think, ultimately, the idea of going there is much more exciting than actually doing it. And I learned this the hard way.

But I really love that this challenge exists at all. It's always great to see something created by players in a game that is then acknowledged and supported by a developer. I don't think you should rush out and attempt your own Hutton Orbital run, but it's an enjoyably silly (if tedious) way to spend an hour and a bit in Elite's vast galaxy. And if you fill your hold up with those rare commodities, you could make some decent money for your efforts. Me, I'm just happy to have gotten here in one piece and returned home with a novelty mug.

The obligatory Hutton Orbital selfie.
Andy Kelly

If it’s set in space, Andy will probably write about it. He loves sci-fi, adventure games, taking screenshots, Twin Peaks, weird sims, Alien: Isolation, and anything with a good story.