Surface Types (Zones)
Surfaces, sometimes called Zones, are the playable areas the character can interact with. Different surfaces have different characteristics depending on their type and location in a star system or the wider galaxy. There are two broad categories of surface or zone: ground surfaces, planets and moons; and space surfaces, planet and moon orbits, stellar orbits, asteroid belts and asteroid fields.
The Zone Type virtual signal is a key part of spaceship automation.
Planets and Moons
See also: Planets, Moons
Planet and moon surfaces work like in the vanilla game, though they may look very different thanks to the Alien Biomes mod. The first surface, where you crash land at the beginning of the game, is always the planet Nauvis. Planets and moons will be the source of the majority of the resources you will need during a playthrough, though some resources can only be found in space. Biters can only be found on ground surfaces, not in space. Planets and moons are also the only surfaces where core mining is possible.
Moons only differ from planets in size; they are always smaller than their parent planet. Otherwise, they work in the same way.
See also: Orbits
Planet/Moon Orbits provide solar energy dependent on the planet/moon's distance from the sun. Orbits close to the sun will have greater solar bonuses (and robot attrition) than orbits further away, although the orbit will always have better solar performance than the orbit's ground counterpart. In particular, Nauvis orbit should generate 300kw per solar panel. Asteroids only spawn to the left and right from spawn (none further up or down), some of which contain resources useful for supplementing a space base. These asteroids may also save a little bit on scaffolding with careful placement. A planet/moon orbit may serve well enough to initiate a space operation, but it is recommended to search elsewhere for more ideal space locations to cut down on shipping costs, particularly fluids as barrels do not compress fluids well for transport. Taking a space capsule from here will return you to the surface of the planet or moon corresponding to the orbit.
Nauvis orbit should start with a basic base, however the lack of local resources requires either a lot of shipping or moving the base somewhere else.
Star orbits offer the best solar energy out of any location, but have very few asteroids and even fewer resources. A lot of scaffolding and shipment from other locations is needed to sustain a base here. The heavy solar energy causes massive robot attrition from solar radiation.
Taking a space capsule from here will take you to the surface of the last moon of the first planet in the solar system, even if you do not know the planet or moon in question. For example, if Nauvis is the first planet of the Calidus system, taking a space capsule from Calidus orbit will take you back to the surface of the last moon of Nauvis. If no such moon exists, it will take you back to the first planet's surface, in this case Nauvis.
One possible (late game) use of these locations is the production of antimatter fuel.
See also: Asteroid Belt
Asteroid belts, like planet/moon orbits, have solar power (and robot attrition) dependent on the distance from the sun. The asteroids spawn much like their orbit counterparts, where they only spawn to the left or to the right of spawn, but are typically much larger and plentiful in comparison. As such, resources are much easier to find, and scaffolding costs may be cut down significantly. Taking a space capsule from here will return you to the surface of the next planet down from the position of the asteroid belt on the navigation view's list, including locations not discovered yet. For example, if the asteroid belt is below planet A on the navigation view list, but above planet B, a space capsule from this asteroid belt will take you to the surface of planet B. If there is no planet B, the capsule will take you to the surface of planet A.
These can be good locations to set up a base, however unless you are very lucky in placement, returning to Navuis will require a return rocket or a ship, just the pod will not work.
See also: Asteroid field
Asteroid fields have very little but not zero solar power. This comes with the advantage that robot attrition is also minimal. The amount of solar power an asteroid field gets is independent of its distance from the nearest star (under 6kw from normal panels, 38kw from space panels), so the only advantage an asteroid field very close to a solar system has is short rocket trips. As such, power will have to be mainly nuclear, and antimatter once that is researched, but solar panels may be used to kickstart or supplement a small amount of electricity. Water for such nuclear/antimatter operations may be obtained locally through water ice, and sustained for long periods with condenser turbines. Asteroid fields are greatly suited for large scale space operations with its vast amount of asteroids spawning in all directions, providing savings on scaffolding, and an abundance of resources meaning very little shipment must be conducted from elsewhere. The asteroids may be detrimental, however, as there would be little empty space to spacewalk quickly, and the abundance of resources cannot have space buildings placed on them until they are mined out. Taking a space capsule from here will return you to the surface of the planet closest to the star of the nearest solar system, as determined by the asteroid field's location on the starmap. The starmap is found at the top of the navigation view's menu. In SE version 0.3.xx, Asteroid Fields can only be found via researching the technology 'Deep space zone discovery.'