I know that a revamping of the exploration areas is underway. I though I'd pass some ideas along on how to improve this part of the game.
One of the things that is obviously missing in these areas is any sense of exploration. As of right now they are simply a place to do some repeatable missions. My proposal is by no means a complete solution but would serve to add a nice flavor of exploration this area of game play.
I propose to add a series of discovery accolades to theses areas. These accolades would or should expand most of the game (from LT - Admiral) to complete.
1. Planets based on classifications: Whenever you enter a new system you will have the option of scanning the planets in this system. According to http://www.sttff.net/planetaryclass.html there are 22 classifications of planets. So the accolade could be achieved once you have successfully scanned one of each these. some would be more rare then others. And perhaps you could add one super rare "Cloaked planet" to the list. These accolades would or should expand most of the game to complete.
2. Comets - 3 basic classifications to discover
Short period comets => less than 20 year periods
Intermediate period => 20-200 year periods
Long term => greater than 200 year periods
A scan of their trajectories would determine their elliptical pattern. These would be more rare.
5. Space dwelling creatures. There are a lot of examples of these. One of them was also a nebula. But some kind of accolade for discovering a certain amount of these types of creatures. This one would be more tricky to implement ad ti would require making these creatures.
6. Events or phenomenons - Things like super novas, black holes ect.
7. Pre-warp cultures. Discover so many to get the accolade. Perhaps by the type pf civilization. bronze/industrial ect.
8. First contacts - maybe this is already implemented. not sure.
anyway you get the idea. adding this as sort of a scavenger hunt/discovery kinda of mini-game could add more of a exploration feel to those parts of the game. Again its not a complete solution but would make a decent addition. If anyone has more ideas to add to this, feel free to suggest them here.